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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.

The Slings And Arrows Of Outrageous Fortune

Depression. More than just a word. A very real, debilitating condition. I was diagnosed with it when I had just turned 16, and in truth knew very little about it. But it was through talking to people about how I was feeling that I came to be in the doctor’s surgery being told that I had depression and referred to a counselling service and that I will enter that very same doctor’s surgery in a few weeks time to hopefully be told I no longer suffer from depression.

Talking about mental health is seen as something to be afraid of, people are afraid of the reactions they might get, but I was in the fortunate position to have good people around me, and a support network that I built up by talking out about my own mental health. It was when I began college that I suffered my most severe bouts of depression, and it was then that I began to explore what it was and how I could bring myself out of this deep dark black hole, a journey which seemed to be an endless spiral into the depths of despair. Soon I concluded that for me to get better, my friends and teachers needed to know what I was going through. Fortunately I was on good terms with my form tutor who appeared sensitive and understanding. Indeed, this proved to be the case when one day I stayed behind to discuss the problems that I had been having. My tutor was happy to listen to me and not only that but encouraged me to seek support by actively inquiring as to what support was available throughout the college. It transpired that the only time I could get counselling was during tutor periods, and having discussed it with my tutor, I was able to take up this opportunity.

The first time I went to the room where counselling was, I walked past a handful of people waiting nearby, sitting on the floor. As I walked past them, I felt the anxiety that had crippled me thus far at college, as if they somehow knew what I was going in for, and were looking disapprovingly at me. Of course they weren’t, how could they possibly have known? They couldn’t have. The trouble is that’s sometimes how people feel as a result of the stigma that manifests itself within of our society today.  However, those who mock us, who see mental health issues and mental illness as a weakness, are so very wrong. I am a stronger person for my depression, because I talked about it to people, I managed to find the causes and the triggers and in turn managed to utilise the support I received to educate myself whilst improving my mood.

My experience of stigma has been both direct and indirect, with friends whom I have got to know through support groups but also in the form of people using words such as “schizo” or phrases like “I’m so sad I’m going to cut my wrists” as a sarcastic response to something that has been said to them. This is stigma as much as people telling us to “get over it”. However, I was told that I was a “hater of life in general” by someone who was supposed to be my friend and knew about my depression. Despite this affecting me at the time and making me feel like I was attention seeking or that I should keep my problems to myself I persevered because I knew in my heart that the only way I was going to get better was by talking about it. Today, one of my favourite pieces of writing comes from Hamlet, the play by Shakespeare, with the famous soliloquy ‘to be or not to be’. Hamlet is in a battle with his mind as to whether or not to live anymore. This, I feel documents the feelings many people go through with mental illness and certainly resonates with how I felt. I use it to remind myself that I was right to choose the option to be, to exist. We are all unique, special and contribute to society merely by existing.

Thankfully, we’ve largely moved on from the times where it was unacceptable to be homosexual or to be of any other ethnic origin than white British, but yet with mental health there still remains this ancient attitude that we are somewhat inferior. Why should attitudes towards our health be any different to our race or our sexuality?

We need folk to sit and listen to what we have to say, to try and understand what we are feeling, you cannot do that by treating the symptoms and ignoring the cause.” This quote sums up my experience with, and views towards the treatment of depression. I reached out to those who were willing to listen and try to understand what I felt, and I will be eternally grateful to those friends who did this.