Over the past few weeks, I have been delighted to see that my personal work to highlight the importance of mental health awareness and treatment has been reflected by announcements from the Government.
Just before Christmas, I had the pleasure of visiting Bridewell Organic Gardens in Wilcote near Witney. On a frosty morning, I met with the staff who help to keep the gardens running.
Bridewell was established to support those suffering from poor mental health through gardening: building skills and creating a much-needed support network. Clients maintain the garden, tend to the animals and manage the vineyard, all taking place in a beautiful part of West Oxfordshire.
I was so impressed with the work being carried out at Bridewell, and so keen to give mental health treatment the priority it deserves, that I raised this issue in Parliament when the House of Commons resumed after Christmas. I told the Secretary of State for Health about Bridewell, praising the great work of the staff and volunteers. I urged him to investigate similar schemes to ensure that those suffering mental health problems are offered the full range of treatment options, including those that are innovative and highly effective. I was delighted that he readily agreed to do so.
I am therefore delighted to report that the Government shares my determination to ensure that mental health is treated with the same importance as physical health. A further step was announced by the Prime Minister earlier this month. There will be support available for every secondary school in West Oxfordshire, with each school now being offered mental health first aid training to increase awareness and help tackle the unacceptable stigma around the issue. This will be alongside more support in the community and more online services, so that everyone has access to help at every stage of life.
Child and adolescent mental health services in West Oxfordshire will also be reviewed to help identify what is already working and what we can improve, so more children and young people get the mental healthcare they need and deserve. Together, we will transform the way we approach mental health in West Oxfordshire.
As a hidden illness, I am glad that the Government is recognising its importance, because I am very familiar, from my professional background, with the devastating consequences if help is not easily available. Working in the law, I have met many whose lives have been very seriously affected by mental illness, perhaps in association with drug abuse, perhaps in the aftermath of an accident, or perhaps with no clear trigger. Mental illness can affect those from every walk of life, at all times of life, and is a tragedy if it is not recognised and addressed.
In our own area, we are particularly concerned with the mental health of military veterans, and I am in awe of the work carried out by charities such as Combat Stress and SSAFA. As I said in my maiden speech to Parliament, "a person may leave the conflict, but the conflict will never leave the person." I will continue to fight for veterans' welfare. But war is an extreme human experience, and it is important to recognise that a person's mental health can be adversely affected through a number of experiences, not just the life-threatening situations endured in war, but personal misfortune: perhaps the loss of a child, the stress of an unhealthy workplace, or medical complications. These must all have their rightful place at the centre of our concern.
For example, I was very concerned to read a new report from The Silver Line this week suggesting that increasing numbers of old people are phoning the charity with problems, such as depression, but refusing to tell their family or doctor, with the result that problems go unrecorded and untreated. This simply underlines the point I wish to make; I cannot emphasise enough how important it is that mental health continues to openly discussed, and I support any further support given in the community. Clearly, more work needs to be done at all levels of society. I will continue to prioritise this important issue, campaigning to improve the support and treatments on offer alongside raising awareness.
If any readers have an issue which they want me as their MP to help with, do email me on email@example.com or write to me at Robert Courts MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.
Published on 01.02.17 in the Witney Gazette.