This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. It is an annual, nation-wide campaign which seeks to highlight the importance of positive mental wellbeing and campaign for improved public understanding.
Mental Health Awareness Week is hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. The campaign is now in its 20th year. This year’s theme is kindness. The dictionary defines this as “the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate.” There are many things that we can all do to be kind to each other; we can volunteer for causes; reach out to someone, talk to them, give them a phone call and see how they are.
As someone who has been affected by poor mental health, I know how such acts of kindness can make a big and enduring difference. In my maiden speech, I spoke about how I neglected my mental health for years. On my mental health journey, I discovered faith. My faith has changed my outlook on life and given me a positive set of beliefs and values. These inspired me to step up and serve my community; from fundraising for underprivileged children and serving at homeless shelters to becoming a local councillor and now a member of parliament. As community leaders, I feel that we have an important duty to help, show kindness to others on their own mental health journey, and challenge stigma wherever it occurs.
While everyone has mental health, not everyone has a mental illness. According to data from the House of Commons Library, 8.4% of people in Wolverhampton South West have depression. Although this is below the average for the region and the country, it is still a significant figure. And of course, mental health covers a much wider category of conditions. During my time as the local Member of Parliament, I want to work on tackling both the various causes of mental ill-health and the stigma that can often be attached to those living with mental health conditions. I don’t want to delay in getting to work on this. Now – perhaps more than ever – we are beginning to understand how important this issue is; as Mark Rowland Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation has said: “This year may be the most important week … ever hosted, as we deal with coping and recovering from the Coronavirus pandemic.”
As we enter phase two of the UK’s response to Coronavirus, it is essential that we all stay alert to control the virus and save lives. At the same time, people should never be left to suffer on their own. As elected representatives, we have a duty to ensure that everyone has the support that they need. The Government is helping local authorities and providing £5 million to leading mental health charities to fund additional services for people struggling with mental wellbeing during this time. The grant will be administered by Mind and could be used to improve telephone/online services for the most isolated and vulnerable.
The manifesto upon which I proudly stood for election just over half a year ago committed to treating mental health with the same urgency as physical health. I remain wedded to this commitment. I am pleased that, from September, student nurses will receive a bursary worth at least £5,000, with further funding in disciplines struggling to recruit – such as mental health – and to help with their childcare costs. In addition, I recognise the significant contribution informal carers are making at this time. I recently asked a question on this topic this in Parliament. It was confirmed that rather than just more traditional forms of care, providing emotional support to a disabled person will count towards the carer’s allowance threshold of 35 hours of care a week. This is a good starting point. More must be done.