GP Taylor: Cuts to mental health are a matter of life and death

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IT has been a week since my struggle with depression was a feature in The Yorkshire Post. After many years of hiding it from the world, I decided to be open and honest about a problem that I have had in my life since I was beaten up as a police officer.

For many years, I had hidden my condition from the world for fear of being branded as mad, weird or not much fun to be around. There was a substantial amount of pride involved and also the fear of being stigmatised as mentally ill.

Yet, in the last week, I have found an amazing amount of support from friends and strangers. My email inbox was overflowing with thanks and well wishes. I was surprised by how many people had now decided to “come out” themselves after hearing my story.

I was also surprised to find out that there may be in excess of 4,000 people who suffer like me in the east of the county. From what I hear, my story was pretty common.

I had been misdiagnosed in the early days of my illness and it took four years for me to have any real treatment. I have managed to survive without medication and even in the darkest times resorted to long walks and comedy shows to keep the “black dog” at bay.

What has really helped me was having a therapist. A person who I can be totally honest with and don’t have to be worried about what they think. I can now readily admit that I am the one in three people in this country with some kind of mental health condition.

My post-traumatic stress disorder is well under control and the light burns brightly at the end of the tunnel. It has taken 20 years for me to get proper therapy. I remember once being told to go away and read up about my condition on the internet and that might help – it certainly didn’t.

So why is the Tory Government paying lip service to mental health issues and indeed will cut the spending in this area by 2018?

Figures from five-year plans submitted by 41 mental health trusts show that funding for both adults and children’s services in 2014-15 was £5.86bn, but by 2018-19 that is expected to be £5.74bn – an eight per cent cut once inflation is taken into account.

It was surprising that the only political party talking openly about mental health was the Lib Dems. Sadly, owing to their catastrophic failure at the ballot box, none of their plans will ever see the light of day.

Quite rightly, they wanted £400m to help people with mental health problems. This included getting the right support early on, talking or psychological therapies as well as introducing waiting limits. Sufferers would have known for the first time how long they would have to wait for treatment.

The Lib Dems went even further and wanted to make sure that no-one experiencing a mental health crisis is ever turned away from services. They also wanted to give people the same choice for their mental healthcare as they have for their physical health.

The terrifying thing for any one of the two million people with mental health issues is that the Tories have left Jeremy Hunt as Health Secretary. Hunt is infamous for saying he couldn’t understand how Tony Blair’s communications supremo Alastair Campbell could suffer from depression as he had such a good life.

To me this shows the man is a fool. Without the Lib Dems to temper the spending cuts on mental health, the situation looks dire.

Even under the coalition, the number of mental health in-patient beds dropped by 12 per cent since 2011. We will see under this Government that mental health issues are causing poor economic progress and productivity.

Mental health costs the UK economy £105bn per year. Sickness absence and people under-performing due to stress add another £23bn to that figure. Surely those amounts alone should be enough for David Cameron to take heed and spend more, and not less, on this type of care when the Queen’s Speech is set out today?

People with mental health issues cannot just be discarded in the hope they will go away and not burden the NHS. The trouble is that the problems grow and grow as the government cuts funding.

Sadly, this really is a matter of life and death. Having been on the verge of ending my own life, because I could not see a future I know this to be true. How many people will have to needlessly die before government policy is changed?

Perhaps Cameron could start by appointing people sympathetic to challenges of mental health and not those who clearly show a deep lack of insight.

GP Taylor is a writer and broadcaster and can be followed @GPTaylorauthor.