At Full Council last night, Cllr Greg Stone moved a motion on mental health. Here's the full text.
Lord Mayor, this motion comes slightly too late to mark World Mental Health Day but I believe it is important that we mark its importance nonetheless. I looked back through the list of council motions and note there have been previous motions on the topic of mental health from former Cllrs Schardt in 2000 and Cllr McStravick in 2012, and from Cllr Taylor in 2013. Mine follows in similar vein, but the increasing frequency of this issue on our agenda hopefully shows that there is a growing recognition of the importance of the topic and growing support for action to address it.
I hope that there is growing understanding amongst members of the prevalence of mental illness here in our city and of the importance of tackling the stigma that has been associated with it in the past. A number of members have spoken of their own experiences of depression. It is said that many people do not fully understand just how difficult depression can be until it affects them or a member of their family. I can attest to that - it was not something that I was sufficiently mindful of until I was affected by it myself over the course of the past couple of years. It is extraordinarily debilitating and difficult. It often comes as a result of mental and physical exhaustion after struggling with difficult circumstances for too long, and triggered by traumatic circumstances.
To make it worse, sufferers sometimes don't even understand that they have it. They just go through a bewildering period of struggling to cope, getting more and more withdrawn and anxious, suffering from ever increasing lack of self-esteem and inability to function. This vicious spiral can easily lead to suicide in far too many cases.
I consider myself fortunate that I eventually realised I needed help. My GP was tremendously supportive and prescribed anti-depressants. I was referred to talking therapy, and benefited from CBT. I am hopeful that I am making good progress, but it can very easily return. I know too how difficult it can be for friends or family - I care for my partner who is also a sufferer. She has good days and she has very bad days of the darkest despair. It wasn't until experiencing all this for myself that I came to appreciate just how many people also suffer - I received a lot of support from people who I had no idea were also affected. It's not something people are generally aware of, because it's rarely visible and because not enough people talk about it. But talking about it does help - and it does help to make people more aware of the problem. There are sufferers in every family, in every street, in every ward, in every town and city. It can literally be a silent killer. Talking about it helps massively.
It is for this reason, rather than for any party political reason, that I am speaking about this issue tonight. I am particularly pleased that there is growing momentum amongst the public, amongst health sector professionals, amongst the voluntary sector, and amongst politicians that mental health needs to be recognised as a very significant public health issue. I am therefore hugely supportive of work being done in Government to advance this agenda to help to achieve "parity of esteem" between physical and mental health. For too long, mental health has been the poor relation. This needs an ongoing change of culture amongst the public, amongst health providers, amongst public bodies, and employers. The Royal College of Psychiatrists define "parity of esteem" as equal access to the most effective and safest care and treatment, equal efforts to improve the quality of care, the allocation of time, effort, and resources on a basis commensurate with need, equal status within healthcare education and practice, and equal status in the measurement of health outcomes".
I therefore welcome the work being done in this field by local organisations, counsellors and carers, and also welcome the commitment made by the deputy PM to increase investment in mental health services from April next year, including new waiting time standards for 6 weeks for talking therapy treatment, and 2 weeks for patients experiencing first-time episodes of psychosis. This is a very welcome step forward but clearly there is much more to do.
I am also calling tonight for the Council to take further steps on this issue. I would like to see a report to Cabinet setting out how we are going to ensure parity of esteem and improved mental health and mindfulness through the Wellbeing For Life strategy and fund.
Finally, and prompted by my constituency casework, I would like to see the Government review the use of benefit sanctions on mental health sufferers. I am personally aware of cases where people are too depressed to leave their home who are unable to fulfil appointments with the Job Centre and who have literally no money because their benefit has been stopped as a result. In no way can this help their mental state. Yes, there does need to be proportionate welfare reform, but we also need to have greater compassion and support for those who are genuinely mentally unwell. I urge Council to support the motion on a cross-party basis.
Sadly, the Labour Party were unable to resist playing politics with the topic, and insisted on amending the motion with politically-motivated phraseology and using their majority to impose their version, rather than agreeing to a consensus as we had asked.
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