With a Minister for suicide being created and QMSU launching Wellness Weeks, are we finally moving away from vapid tweets and one-off postulations of care?

Photo Credit:https://teentalk.ca/2017/10/08/world-mental-health-day-2017/#prettyPhoto/0/

As I’m sure everyone saw from their social medias, campus stalls and news soundbites, on Wednesday it was World Mental Health Day. My Twitter, as usual, was flooded with people tweeting quotes and pretty calligraphy images saying, ‘It’s ok not to be ok’ or ‘check on your friends.’ My optimistic side was saying “ah this is great, sufferers, supporters and just everyday people are promoting openness and the breakdown of stigma.” However, my more cynical side thought, “oh well done, you’ve posted a tweet, do you actually stick to this every day, do you do any volunteering, any campaigning, or is this just for the retweets and a desire to appear progressive and superficially woke?” 

Maybe I’m being too pessimistic, maybe it doesn’t matter how genuine these things are, at least they are being posted. At the same time, the inaction point I stand by. It is all well and good posting about caring, and how stigmas need to break down, and money needs to be invested, but unless you are actively trying to make change – I’m not saying you need to strap yourself to the London Eye or egg Theresa May – even if it’s just regularly checking on friends or raising some money for a charity – then I hate to say it, your tweet is as useful as a nine bob note.

Unsurprisingly, upon checking social media the next day, October 11th, I did not see a single thing about mental health. Nevertheless, there has been some things this week that have reduced my opinion that mental health is only on the minds of the nation for one day a year.

Let’s start with the big one, Theresa May announced at the first global ministerial mental health summit in London, that she has commissioned a minister for suicide. Source:https://www.thenational.ae/world/europe/britain-appoints-first-ever-minister-for-suicide-prevention-1.779142). She stated, “We can end the stigma that has forced too many to suffer in silence and prevent the tragedy of suicide taking too many lives.”

The woman at the helm? Jackie Doyle-Price, who has been an MP since 2010. Her role will entail establishing how technology can help identify those at risk, and ensuring that all local areas in England have effective plans to prevent unnecessary deaths. Source: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/doyle-price-beachy-head-comment_uk_5bbdcd28e4b028e1fe435963 .Upon her appointment she explained she understood the “tragic, devastating and long-lasting” effect of suicide on families, having met some of those bereaved, adding, “it’s these people who need to be at the heart of what we do.” 

There are many who have praised the initiative. Louis Appleby, a Professor at Manchester University, said it will be “open doors” for conversations about the causes of suicide, and subsequently, how to tackle them. Moreover, Matt Hancock, Health Secretary, believes it will help garner support to place mental illness on par with services for physical health. Indeed, it is vital for there to be more conversations and actions, about and around, suicide and mental health. Roughly 4,500 people take their lives every year, making it is the biggest killer of men under 45 and young people aged 5-19, with rates for teenagers rising by 67% between 2010 and 2017.

As well establishing this ministerial position, Theresa May has promised more support in schools, bringing new Mental Health support teams in, and offering increased support for students’ mental wellbeing. Furthermore, she pledged a £1.8 million investment into the Samaritans, so that their services can remain free for the next four years. The charity’s CEO, Ruth Sutherland, thanked the government:

“We welcome the government’s announcement of funding towards Samaritans’ helpline, which will meet around 10 per cent of the total helpline costs for the next four years and help us to continue to provide our service free of charge.” 

With these measures, combined with Mrs May’s introduction of a minister for loneliness, Tracy Crouch, in January, it could be concluded the government is moving in the right direction. And yet, there are gaps in the policy, with some, arguably rightly so, saying it is too little, too late. Source: https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/world-mental-health-day-suicide-minister-is-not-enough-says-matt-hancock-a3958401.html

Firstly, Matthew Hancock admitted that the new minister did not have a firm budget or target, and that she would have to fight for it while the NHS draws up a £20bn long-term plan in the coming months. Moreover, the CEO of Sane, a mental health charity, Marjorie Wallace, explained that overall service improvements under the Prime Minister have been lack lustre in the last two years, and that it was almost inappropriate we were holding the summit.

“While we applaud the intention [of the announcement], it is striking that the UK should be hosting such a summit when we hear daily about people left untreated due to a lack of nurses and doctors…The prime minister must examine our own mental health system before addressing other countries.”

This is compounded by Labour’s shadow mental health minister Barbara Keeley’s conclusion that 1 in 10 CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups) have failed to meet the mental health investment standard in the last year. And on the 9th October, the National Audit Office stipulated that the Government could be “even further away than it thought” from achieving its goal of equal access to physical and mental health services for young people. Hence, even if current plans are enacted, there would still be “significant unmet need” for mental health care.

Previously, I have analysed, and subsequently criticised the government’s piecemeal, and quite frankly almost disgusting, attitude to providing suitable mental health support, http://cubmagazine.co.uk/2018/01/the-winter-of-woes-crows-and-crisis-can-our-nhs-survive-much-longer-under-government/. Therefore, I am not surprised this policy is not quite the rosey fairytale proposal it appears.

There has also be a question of Jackie Doyle-Price’s integrity. She previously told a local newspaper in her constituency, Thurrock, that she would rather jump off the Beachy Head cliff, which around 20 people commit suicide from every year, in East Sussex than switch to UKIP. Immediately, a spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn said: “Any comment which increases stigma or disrespect or lack of understanding for mental health issues – in particular in this case mental health issues and suicide – is obviously completely inappropriate.”

This comment is tricky, because obviously it can be argued that it was just a throw away remark, granted it is a common turn of phrase, and she said this in 2014 – long before her appointment. However, to be honest, the only way we can break stigmas and make people take mental health seriously, is to stop making “jokes” like this. And personally, the fact she named a specific suicide hotspot makes it go from a passing bad joke, to an insensitive and ignorant comment which diminishes the topic. 

Makes you question the sincerity of her above comments…….

Nevertheless, I will not brush off the minister before she’s even started, who knows, maybe we are on our way to making real progress. However, my expectations are not high, how many times have we been told that this policy, or that investment and scheme would change everything? I do hope however that my predictions are wrong.

On a lighter note, another initiative which gives me hope about the subject is coming from our very university, in particular, our VP Welfare, Ella Harvey. This year, along with many other amazing schemes and projects, she will be holding three Wellness Weeks, as part of the SU’s wider Be Kind to Your Mind campaign. These weeks are meant to support student’s wellbeing with tips and activities. For example, this week focused on the five key paths to wellbeing: Give Back, Connect, Be Mindful, Learn and Get Active (see the image above for the events held this week). On the SU website she explains,

“The Students’ Union is providing students with the tools and tips to keep healthy and active and to show you that with a little bit of self-love and TLC (tender loving care) they are able to manage the normal stresses of being a student and not let it get on top of them.”

Honestly, we are so lucky with our SU, they genuinely take proactive steps to help and support us in any way that they can, I would never suggest they are not doing enough.

On the other hand, although, like now, in the past I have applauded the SU for the programmes they hold in aid of student wellbeing, I have also pointed out the failures of management in the university, which have so far shown no sign of changing ((http://cubmagazine.co.uk/2018/05/the-sus-study-well-initiatives-genuine-support-or-not-addressing-the-real-issues/).

I’m not the only one who thinks enough isn’t being done by the fat cats at QM; as I have mentioned previously I run a mental health society called Unity (check us out – we’re in the Political and Campaigning section of Societies page). At Freshers Fair, I had people from across years, and schools, come up to me and say how needed the society was, because support from the university was so bad. A few even told me they’d lobbied complaints against procedure, but had been ignored.

Embarrassingly, it seems the criticsm is not just known to QM students. I am part of a scheme called Parliamentors, details are not necessary, but anyway, one of the perks is that I get to meet an MP. So, the other day I was introduced to Stephen Timms, the MP for East Ham. As soon as I said I wrote a mental health column at QM, he immediately recalled that he was recently at a forum with many students complaining about the poorness of services at our university! Sadly, although it is all well and good having students, the SU, and support staff, trying to improve and help student wellbeing; if schemes, money and awareness are not coming from the top, nothing concrete changes.

Students will continue to suffer.

Crikey, that was a long one. So, to conclude, clearly across spectrums, as a nation change is being pushed for. Big or small, it’s amazing that individuals and organisations want to do their bit. However, for this work to be effective, sustainable and help those who need it most, the whole nation has to get behind the initiatives, otherwise it’ll just be five more years of tweets and hashtags.

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