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Politicians just don’t understand mental health

Documenting the experiences of a woman who has been through the system, Nadine Almanasfi presents how the care system and the ignorance of politicians is in fact further harming those struggling with mental health.


“But here’s an object more of dread
Than ought the grave contains.
A human form with reason fled,
While wretched life remains.”

David Cameron has insensitively used the word “nuts” in reference to mental health. Eric Pickles made a thoughtless comment abut “adjusting your medication” to a victim of child abuse. Tesco and ASDA stocked ‘mental patient’ fancy dress costumes for Halloween. In this context, the above verse by Abraham Lincoln seems appropriate.

Understanding of and sensitivity towards mental health issues is currently very much in the public eye, exposing the problematic attitudes still prevalent. There is a highly polarised atmosphere surrounding the topic of mental health. There are those who trivialise it, putting it down to just feeling a bit sad, and others who reduce it totally to a biological phenomenon due to chemical processes in the brain.

A friend who has been through the NHS mental health system describes the nature of care offered to her: “Even within hospitals there is a distinct ‘you are a patient that can be treated with medication’ and a ‘you need counselling and emotional care’ divide, which isn’t helpful at all. Personally, this didn’t help me understand my disorder in the least. With a more common disorder, like Bipolar Disorder, there seems to be a step-by-step approach; if this doesn’t work then maybe this will. Mental health care in the UK seems more based around the treatment of the disorder itself rather than the patient. Mental health patients are called ‘service users’ – I hate the term because it makes me feel like I’m a customer at a petrol station or something.

She added: “I think it is being worse than trivialised, it’s just not really talked about. There is no real public knowledge about the mental health spectrum and how it is possible for ‘normal’ people to fall on to it. I think that’s linked to a very British way of not talking about our problems. But it means that when somebody doesn’t feel okay, they sit on it for much longer than they should. We don’t acknowledge depression, anxiety or similar issues that most people go through, so it is much harder for us to understand disorders that are ‘bigger’ or at least shown in the media to be more ‘serious’.”

The care minister Norman Lamb claims that there is an “institutional bias in the NHS against mental health” and that he is “determined to end this”. But with three quarters of the 1,711 NHS beds closed since April 2011 being in mental health wards, it appears that there is still a long way to go until mental health is re-humanised and, to an extent, depathologised.

Sufferers are not ‘diseased’ – they can and do recover.



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