Mental health issues come up frequently in my work as a local MP. Of the hundreds of people who come to see me at my regular surgeries many are suffering from a mental health issue of some kind or are making representations to me about someone who is. My office has been called by people who are threatening suicide or who have loved ones who are in real distress as they try to get the appropriate treatment from a health system which can often seem remote and unhelpful. As an MP one is often asked to step in to help people understand why particular decisions have been taken about their treatment or care and often these cases are the most troubling and difficult in my whole case load.
So I see on the ground in my constituency – in the variety of cases I deal with – the broader issue that we face as we deal with mental illness in Britain. As an MP I always like to get direct front line experience of the issue. That is why I recently shadowed a group of local GPs. I sat as a non-medically trained observer in their surgery as the dealt with a variety of patients presenting with a range of mental health issues – ranging from mild depression and anxiety through to more persistent long-term depression. I came away from that experience with a great deal of respect for the GPs I sat with who are on the frontline in dealing with mental illness.
One of the concerns I raised with the GPs was the growth in prescription drugs on the NHS. The rise in the use of drugs to treat mental illness has been exponential. No one would argue that drugs are sometimes a necessary part of treatment and can bring relief for people who are in deep distress yet the pendulum has, perhaps, swung too far in the direction of drugs. I believe, and I know many GPs also believe, that we need to build on the progress made by the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme to ensure that we have real patient choice with regards to the type of therapy appropriate to the patient’s condition. This is an individual-centred and compassionate approach to mental illness.
As a local MP I have also seen, at first hand, the challenges we face in mental health services. There is much amazing work going on in mental health but there are still huge gaps in services and budgets are under pressure. The NHS spends £14bn a year on mental health with a large proportion of that directed towards acute care. The challenge is to radically rethink how we direct resources to address the growing prevalence of mental illness across the population. As a local MP my case load, often dealing directly with individuals and families in acute distress, gives me a unique perspective from which to take up this challenge.
James Morris is MP for Halesowen & Rowley Regis