At the aforementioned Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton there was a debate on Addressing Underprovision in Mental Health which I had planned to speak in. Though in the brief 45 minute debate there was not time for me and others who had submitted cards to speak, it was a fantastic debate in which many good points were made - both personal stories and precise policy arguments. Nevertheless, having prepared a speech which touched on some very personal issues for me, as well as making a powerful point about the attitude of society towards mental health provision which was not explicitly made by any of the other speakers, I thought it would be a good idea to share the prepared text here:
In 2003, after struggling for months to contain and restrict what were increasingly irrational thoughts and behaviours, I finally succumbed to the ‘crippling anxiety’ referred to in this motion. In a very short time I lost my ability to properly function in a way conducive to a productive life.
Initially I was not brave enough to address this head on, I was not prepared to accept that I was mentally ill and that my problems were but the symptoms of a disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
Eventually, however, I came to accept that this was a disorder – something which, no more than if I had cancer or a some physical disability, I could not prevent. What I could do, however, was treat it. And so I went to my doctor.
Surprisingly, she was quite understanding. She knew more than I might have expected about OCD and about how to treat it. For those of who you perhaps don’t know, the treatment is something called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT. So, I asked, when could I see a psychologist equipped to administer the treatment?
The answer, to my shock and horror, was eighteen months!
I would have to wait at least a year and a half before I could get any meaningful treatment for this crippling condition, at least beyond medication which would be nothing more than a temporary stop gap if it even had any positive effect at all.
That was unacceptable. Completely unacceptable. Good quality healthcare, free at the point of use, is an essential ingredient of a Liberal society. The fact that what we are talking about is a mental health condition which requires a treatment that is based on psychological therapy is no excuse for this abject failure of our system to deal with what was at the time an absolutely devastating condition.
In the end I decided to self-administer the treatment, however painstaking and time-consuming learning enough about CBT and being my own therapist would be I figured that I would still be in better shape doing that than if I had just waited for eighteen months.
Thankfully, after a systematic and determined effort to resolve the most debilitating aspects of the disorder, I was well enough to return to work, and then to a high responsibility management role, and then, eventually, back to University.
So, why do I tell you all this? As a politician it would, of course be very easy for me to just focus on all the good stuff, all that stuff which might be put on election leaflets or my candidacy website: a recent First Class degree, Vice-Chair of my local party, a new young professional in social care recruitment (which itself gives me a different perspective on the whole subject yet again). But the fact is that I am not just those things – I am also the person that lost nigh-on five years of my life battling to contain and control my obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Simply put, the point I want to make with this speech is that there is no us and them when it comes to mental health.
Society, and its politicians, need to stop thinking of mental health provision as an exercise in providing a service for those poor souls afflicted with strange and peculiar conditions of the mind; and start realising that, with one in four adults afflicted with mental health difficulties at some time in their lives, it is a service that is there for all of us.
Any one of us is or can be affected by mental health difficulties at any one moment, and we need to make sure that if and when that happens they are not denied access to the right treatment in the way I and so many others have been.
And as a politician, an aspiring Member of the European Parliament, and a voice for this party – I consider it my first duty to dispel myth and misinformation around any subject, not least one so emotionally laden and liable to be a cause of even greater distress than the original condition itself.
So, Conference, we need to shout loud and clear, there is no shame in mental health difficulties.
No! The shame lies with successive Governments who have repeatedly failed to prioritise mental health provision and left us, all of us, whoever we may be, who require the help and support of medical professionals in treating what can be devastating illnesses, completely neglected.
That is not right, it can never be justified, it is just not liberal.
So, Conference, let us put an end to this shame and state with one voice – no health without mental health.
I commend this motion to Conference.