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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 Trouble With Men’

The trouble with men is society. The trouble with men is stigma. The trouble with men is the past. The trouble with men is…

The trouble with men was the title of a ‘Tonight’ ITV special looking at depression in men and the fear of opening up about how we feel. It centred around former England rugby player Duncan Bell who admitted to suffering from and hiding his depression until one day the team doctor took him to one side and asked him how he was feeling. Having responded with the all too common phrase “I’m fine” the doctor replied “no no really how are you feeling” and Bell admitted to basically breaking down into tears.

So this post aims to explore what it is about men that stop us from talking about depression or admitting we suffer from it. Right there I touch upon something which is perhaps slightly inaccurate. I put it to you that it is not some sort of pre disposition, chromosomal, hormonal or other biological thing that stops us talking, but it is (partly) a societal reason.

It can be argued that gender stereotypes still exist in the modern age, as is evidenced by the ongoing feminist movement, but it’s not just women who are the butt of sexist stereotypes. Men are affected by them too. There is a myth that men are the protectors, the strong guys and the stable people with strong upper lips. We’re meant to get into fights and throw punches. We’re meant to show all the attributes of a warrior. Unfortunately it is this that is part of the reason men are either afraid to talk about their depression or reluctant to do so. I was told to “man up” at age 15 when I first opened up about how I felt, and that was from a guy who was supposed to be my friend. Things like that, silly ancient perceptions of what a man is stop us from opening up and getting that all important help. There’s the idea of a golden hour when doctors try to save people’s lives, well there’s something similar with mental health. If we notice the symptoms early enough then we can help save people from themselves, and help people to save themselves much more easily before depression manifests itself and blinds them to the reality of life. That is why it is crucial to stop this petty culture of sexism that pervades society today. This brings me onto my next point.

Society. I feel that people with mental health issues are perhaps more aware of people who may judge them, and we use our heightened sense of fear to suggest that there is a culture of turning a blind eye when it comes to mental health. I believe we exaggerate the amount of people whom are all to willing to judge us, to look down on us and to ignore us because we are different. I am in no way suggesting this is the case for all, neither am I suggesting it does not exist, because plainly it does! We must be wary not to let our fear blind us though. However, within society exists a culture of ignorance, and this is where stigma stems from. A lack of understanding of issues, of being afraid of change and people who are different to us. Society allows the continued growth of the idea that men should not talk about their feelings because feeling this way is simply not manly. This is so wrong, so very very wrong, and if you come across this feeling guys then swat it down like you would a fly. Crush it like you would a can. We need to find a way to remove this belief, this myth from society, and the best way to do it is to talk.

The trouble with men is that when you combine depression in men with societal attitudes, you get men hiding away and continuing to allow the myth that depression is a weakness and unmanly to pervade our culture. Now that’s not the fault of the people with depression, but if we can break out of this bubble, to talk out and explain how we feel, then slowly but surely the bubble that society holds itself within will pop and people will throw off their false conciousness’ to find the truth that depression can strike anyone, it strikes in different ways, and that men who suffer from it are no less than men who don’t.

The trouble with men is that because of this myth that depression in men is a sign of weakness and not macho many simply suffer alone in silence increasing the pain they hide inside as the world continues to turn, but their world inside crumbles and crashes, beginning to burn. Men are more reluctant to see their GP, to talk to their friends about it, and all because of this idea that it is not manly.

The only way to solve this idea that emotions, depression etc are signs of weakness and not macho is to educate people, to remove ignorance, remove prejudice and stupidity, and to encourage strong independent thinking. Shun societies supposed rules, talk about how you feel if you need to, it’s ok to do so. Education will of course only be 1 egg in the basket, but it will be a bloody big egg at that.

The trouble with men is that we are scared. The trouble with men is that society has indoctrinated us to see vast differences between us and women, when in reality the only differences that matter are biological. Large amounts of what has been discussed here can be applied to women as well, it’s just men are even more afraid to speak out. Men and women, we’re not that different. Lose your chains and fight for your freedom.