by Huma Munshi
Dear Nick Clegg,
Last week you gave a speech pledging “to give people with mental health conditions the support they need”. As I heard this, I was struck by your shameless audacity, to play politics with mental health.
Let me tell you why your comments particularly jar.
I have been a recipient of mental health services for years. I know only too well the inconsistent and erratic nature of mental health services. The times I have been treated with consideration, respect and dignity are sparse. At times when I have been at my most vulnerable, when I could barely look after myself, when I was losing control of my life, I had to advocate for support – a support that was not often available.
You will know from recent reports show that the number of people being detained for compulsory treatment under the Mental Health Act was over 50,000, a 12% rise over the previous five years. I am here to tell you that your government will change nothing without understanding the nature of mental illness and how you can facilitate effective support.
Mental health problems can be debilitating. It is like the heaviest trunk on your shoulders weighing you down; it is a feeling of suffocation; it is an internal voice crushing you. It is that feeling that you are nothing, worse than nothing, that your presence is a blight on the fabric of society. And your government and the media consistently feed into this rhetoric with talk of “scroungers”. Do you see why this would jar?
Do you realise how disingenuous you sound when you talk about stamping out the stigma of mental illness and yet you continue to ostracise disabled people who are unable to work. And mental health problems come under the definition of disability under the Equality Act 2010.
Research from the disabled people’s rights organisation, Scope, has shown the cumulative impact of your government’s cuts. Cuts to benefits including Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), housing benefit and the ‘bedroom tax’ are impacting the same group of disabled people over and over again
To live by the dictum you espoused of “no health, without mental health”, here is what your government can do:
- Listen to people who experience mental health and let this inform your decision making. Understand that we know what has worked for us and what good mental health care has been. Give us the agency to inform the decisions that impact us.
- Invest in good quality long-term talking therapies. Understand that people’s recovery from mental health problems is a long and painful journey. For people with complex mental health problems, the three month Cognitive Behavioural Therapy treatment is a drop in the ocean and, for some, it is ineffectual.
- This is a diverse country, you have some of the most diverse cities in the world – invest in training healthcare professionals so they can work with people from different racial, cultural and faith backgrounds. You cannot treat people in isolation of their history and background. Culture, faith, gender all have an impact. Are you aware that south Asian women experience higher rates of mental ill-health and are more likely to self-harm than their white counterparts?
- Tackle intuitional racism. Recent studies have found that Black people are 44% more likely to have been detained under the Mental Health Act and Black Caribbean men are 29% more likely to have been subjected to restraint. Healthcare professionals need training but this is a wider point on understanding how racism and discrimination impact on health and well-being. As people of colour we experience this in every sphere of life.
- To practitioners working in crisis care: treat us with dignity. Listen to us; understand that the times when people with mental health problems present with signs of self-harm or injury – they are in pain. It is not to attention-seeking behaviour; people are not wasting anyone’s times. Sometimes, the mental anguish is so excruciating that it is externalised. We are fighting to survive.
- When I have been treated with dignity, professionalism and kindness my healthcare professionals, it has always helped. The paramedic that spoke with no judgement or the kindness of a GP all made a difference. It helped to dissipate the feelings of shame and desperation. These things matter.
- Finally, don’t play politics with mental health. Every day we fight to live our lives despite the pain we experience; give us our dignity.
“That love you were looking for,
Did you find it, they ask.
Has the emptiness disappeared?
Is your soul at ease?
Can you breathe?
Can you live?
I reply: my journey is incomplete.
My heart is still searching;
My spirit is still fighting.
But I fight to live
And sometimes I win.”
Love, Huma Munshi
Huma Munshi started the #fuckhonour hashtag to express her anger at the oppression women have experienced. She is a writer, poet, blogger and trade unionist. She is a regular contributor to Media Diversified, F-Word and Time to Change.
She has written widely on honour based violence, mental health, film and intersectionality. Her weekly column will reflect her passion for activism, a feminism that reflects her own experiences as an Asian Muslim woman, film reviews and current affairs. Read more of her articles here