Kent Messenger Column - 13-01-17
The last time I talked to Theresa May as Home Secretary was in April last year when she visited Maidstone & Mid Kent Mind's wellbeing centre in College Road. She showed a keen and genuine interest in the work and challenges of the Mind team in helping those with mental health problems in the Maidstone area.
It was therefore no surprise to me that her first major policy speech of the New Year as PM announced new measures to transform the way we approach and deal with mental health in this country.
Around one in four people in Britain will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lives. That means almost all of us will know someone who is suffering right now; depression, anxiety, phobias and eating disorders are some of the most commonly shared. Over 6,000 people in Maidstone & the Weald are registered as having depression and last year there were over 8,500 referrals to 'talking therapies' in the West Kent clinical commissioning area.
The measures Mrs May announced this week are targeted at children, young people and sufferers in the workplace, and seek community based alternatives to hospital treatment alongside wide-scale expansion of online services.
These initiatives have been welcomed wholesale by the mental health community as vital steps for the health of our nation, although the British Psychological Society say the acid test will be on the detail of how the Government will deliver on these commitments.
If we are to see significant progress then public perceptions will also need to change. Widely held stereotypes, nourished by some in the media, link mental illness with dangerous and criminal behavior. This causes terribly unjust discrimination and social stigma which exacerbates the condition for many, prolonging or even preventing recovery.
Meanwhile help and guidance is available from some great charities locally and nationally; www.maidstonemind.org, www.mentalhealth-uk.org and www.time-to-change.org.uk to name but three – volunteers and donations welcome!