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A moral and economic case against the cuts to mental health services and the need to reform the ‘back-to-work’ programme

The Government’s ‘fit-for-work’/’back-to-work’ programme is harming people’s mental health and thus it is also undermining the economic recovery.

It has been ruled by a coroner that it triggered a suicide. Yes, it is one suicide, but it is one suicide too many, and the programme should be helping people back to work in the right way, in a way that does not create more anxiety and in a way that is sensitive to the issues people have.

I don’t think it’s intentional from the Tories, it would be churlish I guess to suggest it was, but it highlights the incompetency of the system and the inadequacies of the A) advice given and B) some of the people administering the system.

Fit for work is a disgrace as it currently stands, and I could present plenty of anecdotal evidence to go alongside the evidence from Mind that it is detrimental to some people’s mental health.

It needs reforming.

Cuts to things like CAMHSwhich have been partially blamed for an increase in mental health issues among young people – are hindering people’s lives, and are threatening the economic recovery in that they create further problems down the line for people with mental health issues who then need to use the NHS because they have done one of the following. 1) Self-harmed dangerously. 2) OD’d dangerously (still self harm but more severe and slightly different) 3) Sectioned. 4) NHS walk-in centre. 5) Visited A&E due to suicidal thoughts.

Now, of course these things happen anyway and you will never stop them completely, but by cutting CAMHS and cutting early intervention, by squeezing the net so hard that you prevent people from accessing treatment at an early age or an early stage, you are increasing the likelihood of people developing mental health issues or those issues becoming more severe, and you are putting pressure on services down the line.

You also make it less likely people who are out of work due to their mental health issues and have been placed on the DWP’s programme will actually be fit for work in the future because there is less access to support, and that costs the economy billions of pounds a year. In 2009/10 the total cost of mental health issues to the UK was £105.2bn.

It is not solely the fault of the current Government that there are so few beds available for mental health inpatients, that there is so little funding for mental health, but the current Government is exacerbating these problems by cutting funding at a time when it makes economic and moral sense to actually invest.

It is somewhat rich of Norman Lamb to come forward and warn of a crisis (but he is right) when he was part of the previous government which implemented cuts mental health services.

Further, there are areas such as youth clubs which are forced to close because of cuts to local council budgets – with one of the first things councils do to save money is also to scale back Mental Health service provisions – these clubs are places that kids can go and learn about how to cope with things and in some cases I am sure have helped young people and perhaps prevented or at least lessened the effects of issues.

It is short sighted in the extreme to cut funding for mental health services, to implement policies such as fit for work without the necessary safeguards, and to implement it in such an abysmal way. It is a great idea to help people back to work, people with Mental Health issues should go back to work if they are able to, as it is in some cases far better than not working if indeed they have the ability to cope, but if they are not ready they should not be forced to take jobs that will only make them worse, and indeed they should not be pressured into finding work so soon or face the prospect of benefit sanctions.

It is economically (not to mention morally) naive to cut mental health services to the bone, to the extent that a mattress on the floor serves as a “bed” for an inpatient, to the extent that kids (and some adults) have to be held in police cells because there are no beds available. That they have to travel for 79 miles or over 100 miles for the nearest bed. That there are not enough beds.

It is not going to make the NHS more efficient to cut Mental Health services. It’s made out that it’s bureaucracy that gets cut, but it’s not just that, it has a real, and damaging impact on people and that’s so worrying from a moral point of view and also an economic point of view it’s just totally illogical. It will cost a bit more for now to invest in services, but in five years time you’ll see the fruits of it and it will save the NHS money and it will get people back to work and improve the economy in that way too.

This is not me bashing the government for the sake of bashing the government. I couldn’t give care less which party enacted these policies, it is the policies that are wrong, and they need to be changed. It just so happens that the government have made an already precarious situation even worse. I’m not saying that to take a pop, I’m saying that because I actually want people to see the realities of cuts to Mental Health services which are so dangerous.

This is not an “anti-government post”, this is an “anti-cuts-to-mental-health-services” post.

The only way is to invest in the services, and there IS money to do so. It would mean increasing the debt by a tiny, tiny, tiny amount in the short-term, but it would mean in the medium and the long term you’d end up reducing the debt.

I don’t believe economic factors should really come into it anyway- unless you are literally on the brink of economic disaster (and let’s face it, we really aren’t.) We need to reduce the deficit, and we should reduce the deficit, but let’s do it by improving our services, not by cutting them to the bone and condemning people to continued struggles.

The fact that so few people with Mental Health issues have been helped into work by this ‘back-to-work’ programme – with fewer than 9 per cent of people having been helped back into work, so many have said their mental health has been made worse by it, and thousands have died shortly after being found fit to work, means that something is seriously wrong with it. It should be there to support people, not to scare them, to threaten them with sanctions, to force them into jobs they may not be able to do.

People need support, they don’t need bullying into work. People with mental health issues are not shirkers, they do not hide from work, many want to work, but they need to be supported properly – financially and emotionally – but the system is wrong.

In addition, we need to put far more emphasis on educating people, in particular young people in education, about mental health – I don’t know at what age and to what extent because you need to be careful, but we need to do it. We also need to stop using such stigmatic terminology.

That final point is not exclusive to any politicians (or indeed, to politicians in general). John McDonnell made some insensitive comments on Twitter to First Great Western after a person was struck by a train, Douglas Carswell went one step further and deliberately used stigmatising terminology to someone with a Mental Health issue on Twitter and also blocked me for telling him how disgusting his language was, whilst also mocking “the left” for complaining (in a perfectly reasonable way) about the use of the term “nutjob” by Telegraph associate editor Jeremy Warner to describe McDonnell because he disagreed with his economic policies.

To explain the relevance of that paragraph, this is only achievable with better education and with the removal of the stigma that is perpetuated by the cuts to mental health services, by stopping comments about the disabled essentially being abnormal from the likes of ministers such as Iain Duncan Smith, by the attitudes of people in the fit for work programme and by the way the fit for work programme works.

Essentially, cutting mental health services in the way that the government has done (and previous governments not investing to anywhere near the necessary level), is foolish, morally abhorrent and just an example of how cutting the deficit dramatically in a very short space of time has usurped absolutely everything, and unfortunately, it is absolutely ridiculous economic policy.

Investment is needed in both services AND also in research into the causes of mental health issues or a crisis will hit and will just make things even worse in the future and will not help the economy at all. Reform things, but improve efficiency while also investing and put people’s needs at the heart of this scheme.

I’m On A Roll, I’m On A Roll, I Feel My Luck Could Change…

Lucky.

It’s been a while people, a long while. Far too long, but sadly I’ve been unwell. I must learn to take my own advice & talk about my feelings a little more, or at least to reach out to people when I need them.

Life is very very difficult at times, which is why it’s crucial that we develop ourselves a strong support network, however that may be. Surround yourself with positivity & people who really care about you. Be careful not to shy away from them despite the niggling feeling that you get with depression which causes you to do just that. I’ve realised that I need to talk about how I feel, or to talk to people & find some company again. You see, I’m a lonely guy. I’m not your average 19 year old bloke, I do some of the things that a stereotypical 19 year old guy does, but apart from the fact there’s not really such a thing as an average person, I am just… well… I’m just different. I’m trying to learn to embrace that, or at least accept it. I’m incredibly anxious, I have been for a while now, but I don’t know how it came about. Loneliness is a critical part of my feelings, I am a social person, with so much love & affection for people generally, it’s just, most of my friends are people I know from online.

Why is that a problem? It’s not a problem to know people from online, but it’s partly why I’m lonely ironically. I would love to have more friends who live near to me, who I can see everyday & just be like the majority of people are, have a friendship group where I can just talk about random things & when I need come to people for help, but also to just have a hug now & again. Life’s about striking a balance, & that equilibrium is difficult to find or achieve, or even both. For me, it’s going to have to be a case of opening my eyes to my feelings again, not just falling deeper into a pit of despair where I cannot see the wood from the trees. When I can understand, comprehend & simply see what is troubling me it frustrates me unless I can at least think of ways to get through it, because I’m not the type of person to want to mull things over & just feel down. It’s almost impossible to describe this in words, but I’m going to give it a go.

There’s a way you know you’re on the cusp of getting better, or that you are in a better place than you used to be. What is it? Well, for me, it’s when I realise that I need to do x, y & z to improve my mood, when I can somehow see the positive, happy things again, even if they are fleeting thoughts, passing ships in a vast ocean of emotions. Tonight, I realised that I need company, I need to seek out support, I need to ask for help when I need it, & I need to keep myself occupied with random little things, silly conversation, as well as serious conversation. I remembered that I need to try to relax again, regardless of how difficult it is, I need to try. It was only tonight that this happened, & I think, it was thanks to just talking to someone who was willing to support me if I needed it, but doesn’t know much about my situation. Somewhat ironically, someone whom I am envious of for the time they get to spend with people, their friendship group,  their relationships. Someone who I’ve only ever found to be a really good guy, who is not that dissimilar to me in some ways I think. I was able to clear my mind of the fog, suddenly the gloomy skies became clearer again, allowing the sun to come out tentatively to enable me to see what I could do to help myself. Maybe the skies will turn gloomy again, but if that is to be, they do so with my knowledge that it will not be forever again. Again. Again, because it seems like forever, but it’s not & it never will be. So long as you hold on to hope.

Journies. I frequently travel around the country to either see people, or to watch football. They make me appreciate the world a little more, I get out of a rut, out of my house where I do myself no good, & into the beauty that is nature & sometimes also man made beauty. Man made beauty in the form of buildings which have much culture, a meaning & the meaning that is within them expresses the serenity that I so long for.

Yesterday I was in Bristol, the day before I was seeing my friend a little further north of London, & in the future I will travel further. Despite a large number of things not going to plan, & it being a horrible day, there were a few bright lights helping me through the day. A group of 5 friends were busking in the city centre near Temple Meads, & I was rooted to the spot listening to two of them sing either together or solo. Nothing so spontaneous, or rather, faux spontaneous (Covent Garden) has ever caused me to just sit & watch/listen, until now. They were brilliant, not because they were perfect, but because they were giving it a go, singing with emotion & with the intention to make people happy whilst earning a rather small amount of money via donations. I walked up & put some money into their guitar case, something I’ve never done before. As they began to pack up, I walked over & told them that they had made my day a hell of a lot better. The day would later be fraught with frustration & anxiety, but they made it all the more bearable.

For me, it goes to show that simple things can make a difference to us. People make a difference, music makes a difference. Neither of those are really simple, but when put into context they can be. It’s not about making a name for yourself, or fame or whatever the media strongly implies it is. For me, life is about finding small things, little things like luck, friendship & love that make you happy. Find these things, search for them & give something back to people, & you’ll find things at least that tiny bit better.

So I say to you again, hold on. When you’re going through hell, when you think there is no hope, nothing, that’s when you most need to hold on for the brighter days, better days, happier days… or even just the days where you don’t feel like you don’t want to be here anymore. Whenever you’re down, whenever you feel like you can’t take anymore, whenever you’re stressed, whenever you just need someone to listen to you, remember that it’s ok, & that there are people out there who are more than happy to listen to you & to talk to you.

There’s a song I stumbled upon whilst going through old messages & it’s one that I absolutely love but haven’t heard in a while.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bRD51qEJ8t4 (James – Sit Down)

Someone wrote of this song: “Tim Booth once said that “this is a song about absolute misery, feeling entirely alone, it’s about being awake at 4am and having no one to talk to” It’s meant to be comforting for people in this situation, saying that they’re not alone, and they’ll get through it.”

It is, for me, at least, a song which has a great meaning behind it, but a song that reminds me we don’t have to do it alone. There’s someone out there who will be willing to talk to you at 4am, even if they’re absolutely shattered, I know, because I’m one of them for my friends if they need me.

To end, I have to talk about my closest friend. This is the friend I’ve been asking questions about on twitter, about how to help her through a very very tough time. Without her, I wouldn’t be writing this, I would probably have given up on trying to support people through letting them know how important it is to talk about your feelings when you are ready. I might well have given up on any hope of getting rid of this returning darkness that refuses to let me escape it’s sometimes incessant mutterings, this pain, self loathing & self doubt. Someone who feels better for helping me, something which I only remembered when I went through some old messages tonight. My friend, she’s just that, a friend. ‘Just’ that, someone who is so central to my continue recovery. I love you, I hope you don’t get tired of hearing that, because I really do care about you so much, & appreciate everything you’ve done for me, just as you appreciate what I do for you.

Spanish proverb: ‘It’s always darkest before the dawn.’ Hold on, it gets better. I promise.