Parity of Esteem

Discrimination Mental Health

Psychiatry has always lagged behind general medicine and governments be they Labour, Liberal or Conservative have consistently failed to address the disparity. But mental health affects one in four of our populations and can cost the country in many ways. The cost of psychiatric services is just a small part, mental health problems can damage physical health, can limit a person’s capacity to work, can affect the health of relatives and can place a burden on the police, the courts and prison service. So why then as a country are we neglecting a health problem that affects so many and costs so much?

Throughout our society mental health is the elephant in the room. The effect of stigma and discrimination should not be underestimated. It can leave sufferers frightened to ask for help, scared to tell friends and family, ashamed of their illness and ashamed of their history. To be quite honest most people should know from reading that tackling stigma and discrimination has to be a priority if health outcomes are to be improved.

But the fact that discussing mental health is such a taboo leaves mental health being brushed continually under the carpet. Perhaps then it’s not surprising that the increasingly vociferous body of NHS campaigners have barely touched upon the damage that has been inflicted upon psychiatric services by David Cameron’s government.

Our politicians are elected to serve the people and govern according to the wishes of the people. So until the people start speaking up and saying that mental health needs investing in, it simply won’t happen. If tackling stigma and discrimination did nothing more that open up conversations about mental health and make it sociably acceptable to talk about then that would be huge.

Starting that conversation is crucial to improving outcomes for those affected by mental health but also crucial in encouraging campaigners to call for better services. It should not be something that a person has to hide away for fear of being rejected by their community. It should not be something that a person has to hide from potential employers. But it is.

Yes we have laws against discrimination. But they are close to meaningless for the many people who have a history of mental illness and have to fight against discrimination in everything they do. People with mental illness are often lacking in self-confidence and they are not going to be fighting back when the services they rely on are withdrawn. And they won’t fight back against government policies such as welfare cuts that make life hard. They really do need other people to stand up for them.