Opinion: We made Mental Health an issue – now we must lead the fight to make it possible

Having worked as a frontline mental health social worker for the past 15 years, there was no-one prouder than I was to see Nick Clegg and Norman Lamb push mental health care (and its place within the NHS) up the political agenda .

There is no doubt that without the determination of our gutsy Party, we would not have seen, over the course of the General Election, the other political parties try to associate themselves with our work: securing more funding for mental health care (particularly child and adolescent mental health care) over the last Parliament.

But as any social work student worth their salt will tell you, Maslow developed his hierarchy of needs for a reason.  Mental health doesn’t just happen.  We need to have our physiological needs met; we need to be safe; we need love and belonging and esteem before we can be ‘self-actualised’ – before we can have the psychological strength and resilience to maintain decent mental health, for most of the time.

There are many brave members of the party who have spoken out about their own experience of mental illness over the past months and years.  Mental illness can be a reality for anyone – whatever their background.  As we know, one in four of us will experience mental illness in our lifetime.

But it is also true that there is a link between poverty, social exclusion and mental illness.  Just as there is a link between poverty and substance misuse; and substance misuse and mental illness; just as there is a link between experience of the care system, homelessness, substance misuse and mental illness.  Just as there is, too often, a link between leaving care, experience of the prison system, homelessness and substance misuse.  You get the point I am trying to make?

In writing about his own liberalism Norman Lamb wrote recently: ‘I want Liberal Democrats to lead the way in giving those suffering from mental ill health and those with learning disabilities and autism the right to make meaningful decisions about their care and support – to take control, not to be treated as second class citizens.’  And he is right (although may I say that there are already many,  many fantastic colleagues who spend their professional lives trying to make this happen).

But all rights are indivisible are they not?  Haven’t we started to campaign against the Conservatives plans to abolish the Human Rights Act for exactly this reason?

I admire Norman’s commitment to excellent, person-centred mental health care in this country.  But the reason I am campaigning for Tim Farron to be our next leader is that I know it is his plan for a more Liberal Britain that will deliver better mental health for our citizens.  Tackling poverty;  delivering fairness; tackling the housing crisis; embedding skills; focusing on quality of life – facilitating ‘self-actualisation’.

Yes, mental illness is an equalities issue.  Yes we must tackle discrimination and the stigma that is still endemic in our society.  But if Liberal Democrats want to deliver better mental health in and for this country, we had better start talking more about social justice, social inclusion, and social and economic rights.

* Nick Perry is an approved mental health professional and was the parliamentary candidate for Hastings & Rye at the General Election.