Notes from a new councillor: How to change things

I am frustrated about the bureaucracy I recently encountered as a County Councillor. Oxfordshire Mind, which provides many valuable mental health services throughout the county, has a new initiative to promote mental health awareness throughout Oxfordshire.

The question I submitted to the Oxfordshire County Council Cabinet Member for Public Health was:

Oxfordshire Mind is seeking £308K funding for Mental Health Awareness for children and young people. This investment in Public Health would potentially save the NHS and Social Care millions of pounds a year in Oxfordshire. Will the Cabinet Member meet with Mr Dan Knowles, CEO of Oxfordshire Mind, and me regarding funding this scheme of prevention, ensuring better mental health for young people in this county in years to come?

The written response was that the Cabinet Member cannot meet with us as that would be showing favouritism to one charity over another. She informed me there is bidding process to go through for funding.

Being a new County Councillor, I was unaware of this and so now I know better! But asking the question, and having it publicly documented, has already raised awareness. So it is not a wasted effort on my part.

What I am learning as a new politician is that the more you press for things from different angles, the more likely it is that something gets done. Awareness-raising changes the conversation. I am now ready to go at this from another angle, and will not give up supporting mental health initiatives in my local area.

Those who have read some of my previous blogs will know I am keen on Mental Health First Aid. I worked with Norman Lamb MP to bring forward an Early Day Motion calling for parity of esteem for mental and physical health in First Aid legislation. We were invited to meet with a government minister. Soon after, May’s government announced that all secondary schools would have a member of staff trained in Mental Health First Aid. The legislation has not yet changed, but some good has come from our efforts.

I tell this story to show how things can change, and all of us can make that change happen. We can start the conversation, shift the paradigm, call for solutions to make society more equal and fair. We do not have to accept the status quo. So I will keep fighting for mental health awareness initiatives What will you do?

* Kirsten Johnson is Thursday editor for Lib Dem Voice. She is an Oxfordshire County Councillor and a member of the Federal International Relations Committee.