Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Letter to Jackie Doyle-Price (MH debate)

Below is the full text of my latest letter to my local MP, Jackie Doyle-Price.  I shall, of course, post any reply I get - right here on my blog!

Dear Ms Doyle-Price,

I am writing to you, as my representative in Parliament, asking you to attend the debate on mental health due to be held on Thursday 14 June.  Mental health is an important issue for society with one in four people falling foul of some kind of mental ill health.  This is, I believe, a very conservative estimate, as there are many people who fail to seek help due to the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness.  I, myself, have experience of mental ill health, having suffered with major depression for the last 34 years.

My illness came upon me at the age of seven years old and I was left undiagnosed until I was 26 when I had a breakdown at work.  My full diagnosis is Recurrent Depressive Disorder and Adjustment Disorder (Depressive Type).  I have been out of work since a further crisis came upon me in 2005.  I have not, however, been idle in that time, having undertaken courses and voluntary work to improve my job prospects and to keep busy.  Unfortunately, the voluntary work I have undertaken to make me more employable has made me toxic to most employers because I cannot hide my mental health problem from them as prospective employers can Google my name and find video clips and articles associating me with mental health.  The statistics bear out the fact that most employers would turn me down for a job even if I were the best candidate and that mental health sufferers are the group who are the least likely to be in paid employment despite being the group who are most eager to find work.

You may not have experience of depression yourself and it is difficult to express how it affects a sufferer to someone who is not a sufferer but I will try to do so.  Imagine how you would feel if you had lost someone very close to you, now imagine that feeling magnified a thousand times.  That feeling never leaves me for a single moment and, on top of that, add the feeling of utter hopelessness you would feel if you saw someone you loved dying very slowly and painfully.  Imagine all of that with the feeling of utter darkness and despair and the feeling that things will never improve no matter how hard you try to make them change.  That is depression.  That is what I, and many others, have to live with.

The following list covers the points most needing of being covered in the debate (in my opinion):
  • Mental health service
    • At the moment, mental health services are at their most needed and, therefore, need more funding to cope with the demand; however, they are being forced to make cuts they can ill afford to make.  Mental health has always been the least well funded sector in the NHS and will probably always be the poor relation because most mental health service users are the least likely to make a fuss.
    • In Thurrock, Grays Hall has the highest staff turnover in the whole of the region covered by SEPT, the local NHS provider.  High staff turnover means that the service suffers and is a key indicator of a sick organisation.
    • Giving more money to the mental health service providers will actually save money as there will be fewer suicide attempts and fewer hospitalisations due to better community-based care.
  • Benefits
    • The changes to the benefits system and the associated cuts in the welfare budget are causing a huge amount of fear, stress and anxiety to people already in a highly sensitive state of mind.
    • Every brown envelope that comes through the letterbox only heightens the fear that a mental health service user feels.  These people already struggle to survive day-to-day on what little welfare they receive and the thought of losing even that lifeline is almost paralysing.
    • There are very few, if any, people with mental health issues who are getting more than the very basic amount of money on welfare and considerably less than someone on the National Minimum Wage.
    • The fear, stress and anxiety generated by the changes and cuts in the benefits system will only make the mentally unwell less able to find paid employment.  This will end up costing the country more in NHS treatment and benefits than it will save with the proposed cuts.
  • The Work Capability Assessment
    • The WCA has been unanimously condemned by GPs as not fit for purpose as it is heavily weighted towards physical disabilities and takes little, or no, account for the mental health issues that are just as debilitating but are unseen.
    • Many mental health service users are being found able to work by the WCA but are soon back on benefits due to a crisis brought on by work.
    • If the WCA is not changed to reflect the debilitating nature of an individual’s mental health problem, the strain on the mental health service will be even greater as more and more people fall to mental ill health.
  • Stigma and Discrimination
    • Funds are needed to educate the general public and employers about mental health problems so that the stigma and discrimination faced by mental health service users is dispelled.
    • The media need to be encouraged to portray people with mental health issues more realistically and with fewer negative stereotypes.  This needs to be supported by Government.
    • Employers should be encouraged to employ people with mental health issues and to offer flexible working hours, time off for hospital and therapy appointments and offer in-work support.
    • The Disability Discrimination Act does cover people with mental ill health but it does little to protect them properly because it is so easy for employers to find other excuses to get rid of mentally unwell employees or to deny an opportunity to an unemployed person with a history of mental ill health.

These are only a few of the issues that need to be debated on Thursday.  I hope you will attend the debate and put some of these points across on behalf of all the mental health service users in your constituency.

I am happy to talk to you about any of these issues with you should there be any other future Parliamentary debates on this subject.


Myles Cook