First published by The Independent, 6th July 2016
Today, Labour supporters, MPs, and mental health campaigners alike are disappointed to learn that in the wake of the Labour Coup, the position of Shadow Minister for Mental Health has been scrapped. The first MP to hold the post, Luciana Berger, was among those who resigned after the sacking of Hilary Benn. Jeremy Corbyn has revealed a pared-down Shadow Cabinet line-up, reduced from 31 positions to 25, with the brand new mental health post among those axed.
I wrote a piece in support of Corbyn’s decision to create a ministerial post that bravely addressed Britain’s growing mental health crisis, in this publication. As an ambassador for the charity Young Minds, an organisation that provides support for young people suffering from mental illness, it is with a heavy heart that I acknowledge the scrapping of this essential role.
To erase the position sends the wrong message to those who suffer from mental health problems and those who have dedicated their lives to caring, educating, and researching. It says that a minister for mental health is expendable, when in reality, we need a dedicated department for mental health more than ever.
With one in four people experiencing mental illness every year in Britain, we are clearly facing a problem of epidemic proportions. There has been some success in the breaking down of stigma surrounding mental health issues, but we still have a long way to go, particularly when it comes to conditions like schizophrenia and types of personality disorders. Physical conditions are still taken much more seriously, despite the high mortality rates of many mental illnesses.
The number of hospital beds available to mental health patients has fallen, meaning that patients are often shunted around the UK for appropriate treatment, and that some of the most vulnerable people in the country, including children, are held in police cells.Waiting lists are so long that many people feel hopeless about ever receiving treatment, and others end up in Accident & Emergency just to ensure that they’re seen by someone. Treatment for eating disorders is patchy throughout the country, with some counties offering no services at all. The pressure on existing services means that many sufferers are deemed ‘not thin enough’ to be taken seriously, although BMI is not an accurate indicator for many types of eating disorder. Mental wellbeing is still not addressed robustly in schools, when this could make a massive difference to the lives of young people. There is no doubt that we need a Minister for Mental Health.
It is, of course, tempting to turn this situation into another stick with which to beat Corbyn. Despite having the largest mandate of any leader in the history of the party, drawing thousands of people to rallies around the country,and seeing 100,000 people join the Labour Party since June 23rd, party MPs and the mainstream media are determined to brand Corbyn a lame duck.
I firmly believe that Corbyn’s hand was forced over this issue, by the mass resignations in the Labour Party. He created the Shadow Cabinet mental health position. I doubt he let it be axed without a fight.
It is undeniable that Corbyn is having to make near-impossible choices in this nightmare couple of weeks. It is my hope that the party will hold another leadership election, Corbyn will sweep another win and the Labour Party will finally get behind their leader. With their support, the much-needed ministerial mental health role can be resurrected and the Labour Party can get on with its work – work that should absolutely include holding the present government to account over broken promises, lack of funding, and the continuing mental health crisis.