It is World Mental Health Day. It is a time to celebrate how far we have come in the UK when it comes to talking about mental health. It is also the time to recognise the ongoing crisis and redouble our efforts.
We have all seen the headlines – 1 in 4 of us will suffer from a mental health problem in our lifetime. Our young people are particularly at risk, with half of all mental illness beginning by the age of 14. Children’s mental health services, or ‘CAMHS’, are struggling to cope and the burden on teachers, who deal with the effects on the front line in schools. The rates of antidepressant use in our country are on the rise.
This Government promised £20 billion extra funding for the NHS in June this year. However, we are still waiting for more detail and to understand how this will help those who are suffering. The shadow of Brexit is leading to opportunity cost in this policy area. The lack of initiative means we are losing lives.
This may seem stark, but this is the real cost of inaction in mental health.
I agree with Lady Gaga and Dr Tedros Adhanom, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, that ‘suicide is the most extreme and visible symptom of the larger mental health emergency we are so far failing to address adequately.’ It is not the whole story of mental health problems; however, suicide continues to be a taboo subject. Moreover, I understand why – it is awful to think about, awful to contemplate and, like so much in the news, so very sad. Also, for me, it is personal.
Since February 2015, I have not been able to hear the word ‘suicide’ without a deep sense of sadness, grief and shock. We lost my younger sister to suicide that year. She was so much more than a statistic – she was an intelligent young woman with a promising future who was six months from getting a first-class degree. Her many friends and family deeply loved her. Thinking about it still catches my heart in my throat.
As a child, like me, she grew up in a house where domestic violence was the norm. The NHS refused her a psychologist appointment as a child despite this trauma. This was down to resources we were told. We did not have the money to go private.
We will never know if this would have made a difference, but this haunts me. The right intervention at the right time could have made all the difference. Moreover, despite being a Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate twice since then (2015 & 2017), this is the first time I have shared this, in the hope that, on this day, we are galvanised to carry on the fight for better services. I am no wallflower, but this has been hard.
The stigma is all around us – it stopped me talking about it. However, I realised that this is a trap – the stigma and lack of discussion stops us taking the Government to task on this issue. Mental health policy and funding are about saving lives. Despite the talk, mental health is not ‘fixed’. So, on World Mental Health Day, let’s come together and keep on campaigning. We need to save lives.
If you have been affected by issues in this article, Samaritans can be contacted at 116 123 or on email firstname.lastname@example.org. Survivors of Suicide Bereavement (SOBS) is a UK charity which runs local groups for survivors of suicide and a helpline. Find out more here https://uksobs.org/
* Amna Ahmad is the PPC for Sutton & Cheam, community activist and active member of London Liberal Democrats. In her day job, she runs her own communications business.