Ed Miliband talked of “One Nation” in his speech to the Labour party conference in Manchester. He explained that this country should be a place “where everybody has a stake, where prosperity is fairly shared and where we protect and improve the institutions that bind us together”.
He continued. “One Nation means nobody is left out, or written off. Because it is wrong. And we can’t succeed as a country if that’s what we do.”
Absolutely right Mr. Miliband. Finally we can hear some of his old man coming out. I’m sure Ed’s father would be pleased to hear his son talking in such egalitarian terms.
In a similar way, we can’t “succeed” as individuals, in partnerships, in relationships, in families, being friends – if we leave people out, if we ignore one another’s needs, if we don’t share fairly, if we discriminate and demean; which is why Ed’s most recent policy statement, that has tackled one issue that affects many and is ignored by more, is received so enthusiastically by us.
Ed Miliband explained this week that mental health affects an enormous number within the population. There are thousands of sufferers who are neither diagnosed nor treated in addition to the 1 in 6 that are currently being treated for mental health issues. The economic effect of mental health is huge and is outlined in further detail in the speech, full text courtesy of the New Statesman website:
Ed Miliband explained that mental health “blights millions of lives” and it’s a problem that can affect anyone irrespective of age, disability, race, gender, those who are working, and those who aren’t. In itself, it’s a fairly indiscriminate illness than can cause havoc to the sufferers and their carers too.
“Coming out” as a mental health sufferer is an interesting experience. People are embarrassed. They want to turn away because they don’t really want to have to deal with it, mainly because it’s too complicated or unknown. When you see someone in a cast of plaster, you can readily sympathise with their inability to walk. When you see a young woman with a scarf around her bald head and no eyebrows, you understand and identify the after effects of chemotherapy. Mental health offers no immediately recognisable physical features. It’s the silent and hidden illness that walks our streets on a daily basis, oblivious to most of us, and is reliant on the sufferer to tell the tale.
Ed concluded his speech with some immediate recommendations and a promise of action:
“The next Labour government will reform our health service to guarantee that mental health enjoys real equality of status.
The next Labour government will work with British business to improve our workplaces, helping people stay in work and make their contribution.
And the next Labour government will work with our schools to prepare our children for the demands of life.”
This is extremely positive, but it must be clear that whilst the last Labour government introduced programmes such as TAMHS (Targeted Mental Health in Schools), in the main all it really did was prop up a CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) provision that was underfunded, sometime badly coordinated and working with the “horse” after it had bolted from the stables. Preventative work has not been done.
Admittedly, it was also the previous Labour government who introduced “Every Child Matters” (ECM) with its five key outcomes that addressed a more holistic interpretation of what children were entitled to through health, education, community, safety and economic wellbeing. It also introduced an education bill that ensured every school must “promote the wellbeing of their pupils”.
On paper, this all sounded so enlightened to those of us who’ve been advocating this multi-disciplinary, multi-intelligences work throughout our careers. Yet with the same legislation, and with an Ofsted inspectorate trained to concentrate on standards alone (sorry Ed, it wasn’t just the Tories who concentrated on “standards”), the issues other than the immediate raising of academic standards within ECM were not given equity and in many cases were seen as peripheral.
Once more, there was no preventative action.
It was also the Labour government who introduced Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (SEAL) but it became a contrived vehicle for delivering a very staid programme, where individual school and child needs were not properly met. There were some pleasant activities and it was an excellent resource to dip into, but it didn’t resolve the issues of developing a child’s mind, body and spirit. It didn’t celebrate positive values. It didn’t harness change.
It was also the previous Labour government who persistently refused to make PSHE compulsory in our schools, only realising at the very last minute that it might ensure that every child had access to some teaching and learning about their minds and bodies, about how to keep safe, about how to develop their personal intelligence and their empathy for others. PSHE was a good vehicle for implementing the ECM agenda, and yet it was never made a statutory subject despite the government’s attempt to push a legislative change through immediately prior to the last general election.
It didn’t happen.
The only way to prepare children for the “demands of life” is to give them the opportunity to develop all of their intelligences. They need to be prepared for when they are angry or upset. They need to know how to behave, and how their behaviour might impact on others. They need to be given the opportunity to embrace similarities and differences. They need to celebrate their own culture and experiences. They need to embrace awe and wonder and understand true and shared values. They don’t need to be singled out as inadequate because they can’t get to the top of the academic ladder. They don’t need to be identified as potential failures due to their economic deprivation before they’ve even entered into a school, and they don’t need to be classified and labelled because of the things they can’t do rather than the things they can.
All of these issues can and may lead to mental health illnesses and yet day in and day out we perpetuate the possibility by the type of education we are offering our children and the lack of education that we are ignoring at our peril, as a society as well as individuals.
Mental illness is a hard subject to tackle due to its hidden nature and due to its complexities of type. More is known these days about bi-polarism and schizophrenia but just because you are mentally ill does not mean you are suffering from these illnesses. Yet as soon as you mention that you have a history of mental illness, you can feel people thinking that you are a high-end problem. The differentiation is not there in the minds of others.
Everyone knows that a slight sprain of the ankle is different from a broken metatarsal. Everyone understands that a surge of sciatica isn’t the same as a broken back but still we put all sufferers of mental health into one congealed category.
Mental health illness can come and go. Some have a higher propensity to mental health illness, irrespective of preventative work done at an early age. Some people are just “sad” some of the time which is mistaken for depression.
Sadness and depression are two different things. Whilst sadness can debilitate, it is far more temporary than sustained depression that needs medical intervention. Feeling low could be to do with your biorhythms but it doesn’t mean you’re going to be low for the rest of the month, or the rest of the year. It just is – for now.
None of this is understood or even valued as a justifiable reason for wanting a ‘duvet day’, when in actual fact a duvet day, or more productively a walk in the park or along the city river, is going to make you feel better and be doubly productive the following day.
Ed Miliband is right. We do need to address mental health issues and the inequity that this illness creates. His three points of looking at the NHS constitution, supporting businesses in improving mental health in the workplace (and out of it?) and addressing mental health in schools is a fine starting point but it needs a wholesale societal shift to make a real difference.
We need to look at prisons, at hospitals, at schools, at one another. We need to review housing, leisure time, injustice and inequality. We might even need to look at the whole issue of relationships, attachment, individuality, freedom.
We need to rehabilitate the perpetrators of mental and emotional cruelty, whose actions can result in mental illness for all involved, and we are obviously talking now about those who deliberately and knowingly abuse.
Mental illness can be exacerbated by mental cruelty. If we concentrate on developing positive mental health in all walks of life, especially within the education system, then those that inflict suffering on others would not be so abundant.
If ever there was a need for radical reformation, then this issue of addressing and de-stigmatising mental illness is it.
And starting at an early age, embracing positive values and sharing virtues has to be major starting point. If we can liberate our children to be able to speak when oppressed and to shout out in joy when delighted, then we might be doing something right.
When we enable our children and young people to find their element and when we facilitate true individualised learning, then we might find that our children are far happier now and far more ready for adulthood.
As a nation, one nation, if we truly adopt the words of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the UNICEF Rights or the Child as real policy and real action – as guiding principles in all we do – then we might also address this issue of mental health.
This is not a stand-alone issue. This needs a monumental shift in attitude and action, and unless it is addressed intelligently and creatively, those with a propensity for mental illness will have to continue to hide their “inadequacies” in the face of the most incredible adversity.
Drugs alone won’t work. Prevention is not a cure but it’s an essential starting point.
Ed, we’re here to support in any way we can.