Q. What is your back ground in mental health?
My mother is a psychiatrist and so I grew up well aware of the many issues surrounding mental health and mental health services. I can’t count the number of times our dinner table conversations were taken over by the problems of the local mental health trust and my mother’s varying passion for and disillusionment with the NHS. As a result, I have always had a strong interest in mental health and was overjoyed to start working for Mind at the beginning of 2009.
Q. Can you tell us about your work for Mind over the past twelve months?
The biggest project that I have worked on is the Men and Mental Health campaign. After writing the campaign report, I have spent the last year working with Mind campaigners to lobby the Government asking for a men’s mental health strategy to be created. Now that the Government has agreed to doing this – and has commissioned Mind, along with Men’s Health Forum, to write it! – I have been busy working with service users and experts in the field of men and mental health to get the guidance paper together.
In addition to men and mental health, I have been: working with the Prescription Charges Coalition to ensure that Gordon Brown keeps his promise of eliminating prescription charges for all those with long term conditions; running Mind’s campaign for the independent and statutory regulation of counsellors and psychotherapists; carrying out a research project on wellbeing for the Department of Health; and planning the next phase of our We Need to Talk campaign that is calling for better access to a wide range of psychological therapies.
Q. What is your opinion of the Government’s record on your areas of work in Mind?
It really depends on the issue. So far, the Government has been very responsive to our men and mental health campaign but the proof will be in the pudding – once we write out guidance paper, it will be essential that the Government puts its full backing behind it and encourages mental health services to take up the paper’s recommendations. Regarding the regulation of counsellors and psychotherapists, it was actually the Government who really began to make this issue a priority when they wrote the White Paper on the regulation of health professionals in 2007.
However, the Government’s record on prescription charges has been less encouraging to say the least. Although Gordon Brown made his promise to eliminate prescription charges for all those with long term conditions in 2008, it’s a year and a half on and no further commitments have been made.
Q. What has been the response of the opposition parties over the past year?
Again, this does depend on the issue. The prescription charges campaign has found great support from the Liberal Democrats, with more than two thirds of the Party’s MPs signing one of our Early Day Motions (EDM) on the subject. However, only a very small number of Conservative MPs have signed the same EDM and we have had no indication from the Party that they would want to implement Mr. Brown’s prescription promise if they were elected.
As for the regulation of counsellors and psychotherapists, we have received warm responses from the Liberal Democrats and have been encouraged by the interest that the Conservatives have expressed in the issue. As a result, we hope that the momentum already gathering behind this subject will not be lost after the General Election.
Q. Can you tell us about what you’ll be working on over the next few months with Mind?
The two main areas of work will be writing the guidance paper on men and mental health and launching the next phase of the We Need to Talk campaign for psychological therapies.
The men and mental health work will include holding a conference on men and mental health on 30th March and gathering the opinions of service users about exactly what they think should be in the guidance paper. As part of this, we have set up a feedback form on our website to enable people to give their thoughts on this issue. You can find the feedback form here.
The We Need to Talk work will include asking service users to respond to a questionnaire on their experience with psychological therapies (an online version will be available very soon) and encouraging our campaigners to lobby their party political candidates on the issue ahead of the general election.
Q. What would the perfect mental health service look like to you?
It would truly treat everyone as an individual. Whatever types of help a person felt they needed would be available – anything from exercise on prescription to crisis houses. Mental health would be on an equal footing with physical health and all health professionals would be fully trained on the subject. Physical health, social care and mental health services would talk to each other and work together. The stigma surrounding mental health problems – particularly the stigma within mental health services – would be a thing of the past. And funding would never be an issue!