Mental health has been dubbed the ‘Cinderella service’, traditionally neglected by health policy makers and receiving proportionally low funding when compared to its burden on society. The launch of the National Service Framework for Mental Health in 1999 by then Health Secretary Frank Dobson was intended to show the new Government’s commitment to this area.
There have been few specific commitments from the Conservative Party on how they would propose to improve mental health services. What we do know is that the Conservative Party wants to see an increase in the number of people with a mental illness returning to work, indicating that they recognise the full economic costs of this condition. So basically we cost too much by being ill?
Of cource the Conservatives seem to fail to recognise that for some mental health sufferers employment will not be a practical option, and that instead volunteering projects may help them to regain confidence and self-esteem. But meh, just worry about how much our illness costs you, that’s fine… until you become one of the 1 in 4 effected by mental illness that is…
Mental health would be a big winners in the event of a hung parliament. As the polls have narrowed speculation has begun about the issues on which the Liberal Democrats may exert pressure in a partnership with a minority Government. Mental health has been an issue on which Nick Clegg has sought to take a leadership position. He has explicitly stated, for example, that budget cuts should not hit mental health services and has proposed extra support to help those from whom the recession has caused mental health problems.
Specific proposals include training debt advisors to recognise mental health problems, allowing individuals to freeze their credit rating so that they won’t be given new loans or credit cards, and encouraging banks to offer people who have declared mental health problems supervision of their accounts.
These are the sort of detailed interventions in mental health policy which are often not heard from either Labour or the Conservatives. So it is just about possible that in a coalition government – or if we end up with a Lib Dem-supported minority administration – mental health services may end up being accorded greater priority.