October column: Mental health

Jo Cox writes a column every month for the Dewsbury Press. This is the column for October, published today.

I discovered a surprising statistic last week while visiting a local charity: more than 40% of patients visiting their GPs have illnesses that are emotionally based.

In spite of all the injuries, sprains, aches and pains, viruses and infections that lead people to the doctor’s surgery, a large proportion of issues relate in some way to mental wellbeing.

The charity was the Birstall based New Mind Counselling Service. Its staff and counsellors, all of whom are fully trained and accredited (and unpaid), offer almost 900 counselling sessions a year between them.

Tomorrow is World Mental Health Day – a day designed to promote awareness about mental health. I’ve made New Mind my Charity of the Month – throwing the spotlight on this impressive local charity, helping to raise their profile and offer my support for their vital work.

We hear again and again that mental health is a priority.  But it is clear that there is a real issue about how much funding the government provides to the NHS to deal properly with mental health, especially for children and adolescents.

As we all know Government cuts impact massively on the range and breadth of services that can be offered. For Kirklees Council this means libraries have been under threat, grass doesn’t get cut, bins get emptied less often and fewer street lights are lit.

But when it comes to mental health it’s a far more complicated process for assessing and juggling and addressing priorities.

There are real concerns that the whole emphasis of mental health services are now geared towards looking efficient and effective rather than being effective and appropriate. We have seen the emergence of a “tick box mentality” in a field where in reality no two boxes can be ticked in the same way.

Waiting times for adults and children are growing an alarming rate. Many believe the services being offered are spread way too thin to be effective and that the attempts to improve access to psychological therapies is at best cosmetic and not sincere.

There are also very strong concerns that some leading therapies are misused or underused as a treatment – providing little more than superficial attention without being robust enough or sustained enough to address many people’s underlying problems.

Here in Batley & Spen, we have a wonderful voluntary organisation providing a great, professional service, which includes many referrals from GPs, which is why I believe such services should be funded by the NHS. It’s great that GPs can make referrals to New Mind but there should be some recognition of the fact that the NHS is in effect getting its services for free.

Many of the UK’s leading mental health charities focus on getting people talking. New Mind does just that.

If mental health is as important as government ministers tell us then the funding should reflect that.

Labour has just appointed the first ever shadow mental health minister, which I hope will increase awareness about this critical issue that affects so many of us.

Each month I will be promoting a local charity, or a regional or national charity with a strong local link. Anyone with any suggestions for my future Charity of the Month can contact my office on 01924 910 499 or email me on jo.cox.mp@parliament.uk

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