MENTAL HEALTH: IT IS TIME TO GET THIS RIGHT

30 August 2015

The new Tory MP for Plymouth Moor View, Johnny Mercer, made a moving, passionate, and dynamic maiden speech in the Commons in June Hansard 1 June 2015 column 373, 6.54 pm).

He spoke excellently about the insufficiency of mental health provision in Britain and the duty of government, the state, to care for our armed forces veterans and their families. He said he would be actively engaged with these issues. I am onside for this: his argument is civilised and liberal (and, I think, socialist).

Two passages of his speech stand out:

“I want to speak briefly about my two main missions in this Parliament. First, mental health provision in this country remains poor. There are some extremely dogged and determined characters who fight night and day to improve the services offered to those who struggle with mental health problems. Often, those who struggle with mental health problems cannot shout for themselves and suffer in silence because of the ridiculous stigma placed on mental health. That stigma ends in this Parliament. It is not good enough to have sympathy, empathy even, or simply to understand these issues when they affect someone close to us. It is time to get this right and I look forward to starting this crusade in Plymouth.” (column 374)

“I am sorry to report, however, that there remains a great stain on this nation of ours when it comes to conflict. In 2012, we reached a very unwelcome threshold when, tragically, more soldiers and veterans killed themselves than were killed on operational service in defence of the realm. It goes without saying that there are some genuine heroes in our communities and charities up and down this land who work tirelessly night and day to look after and assist those who have found returning to a peaceful life the biggest challenge of all. A great many of these veterans are not only from Afghanistan.

My key point is this: there has been a fundamental misunderstanding by governments of all colours over the years that veterans’ care is a third sector responsibility and that the great British public, in all their wonderful generosity, support our troops well enough, and any new initiative is met with the response, “Well, there must be a charity for that.” That is fundamentally and unequivocally wrong, and I make no apologies for pointing it out to anyone of any rank or position who may be offended by my candour.

I am not a charity and neither were my men. We gave the best years of our lives in defending the privileges, traditions and freedoms that this House and all Members enjoy. It is therefore the duty of this House to look after them and, crucially, their families when they return.” (columns 374-5)

He goes on to talk baldly but movingly about the deaths of two of his soldiers, one from suicide, one in a terrible combat, lance-sergeant Dan Collins and lance-bombadier Mark Chandler. I urge you to read their stories told by Mercer in Hansard, and google them.

Mercer is right. Mental health provision in England, including Cornwall, is poor and must be improved. Mentally ill people in Cornwall, as elsewhere, can end up in a police cell because of poor provision of acute psychiatric beds in mental health places of safety for them. Indeed, my understanding is that such is the lack of suitable psychiatric beds here that some mentally ill people from Cornwall are sent to Manchester for treatment, away from their family and friends and familiar environment. In these circumstances the psychiatrist treating them has to visit them in Manchester. I am with Mercer all the way: “It is not good enough to have sympathy, empathy even, or simply to understand these issues when they affect someone close to us. It is time to get this right”.


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