Mental health care saves lives. We must fight the Tories’ £500m-a-year cut to services

I'm transgender and a survivor of suicide. I know how important mental health care is. We can't let the Tories get away with underfunding it, writes Sophie Cook.

My life has been marked by struggles with mental health and suicide. In the face of Tory underfunding, we need to protect these services that save lives, writes Sophie Cook.

I’ve known that I was transgender since I was around 7 years old, this was the mid-70s and there’s very little knowledge of trans identities, let alone understanding.

Because of the lack of support available and the emotional disconnect that it produced in me, at the age of 12 I first attempted to take my own life.

At the age of 16 I joined the RAF, and at 18 I saved a colleague’s life after he lost his arm in an explosion on a Tornado aircraft. I received no support for the Post Traumatic Stress that resulted from the incident and it affected me deeply.

In the photograph (above) of the ceremony where I was presented with a commendation by my commanding officer I looked dead, an 18-year-old self-harming and suicidal zombie with no emotion behind the eyes, just pain.

Over the intervening years I have continued to battle with my demons, I have fought suicidal feelings and self harm, both physical and mental.

Today, on World Mental Health Day, I think about the damage that a lack of support has done to my life and I think about the thousands of others who struggle daily with the pain and stigma of a mental illness.

Fighting this stigma has been one of my main reasons for speaking up about my own mental health history, for it’s only by beginning to have those discussions that we can enable people to find the help that they need.

Mental health care saves lives. 1 in 4 people struggle with a mental illness and suicide is the single biggest killer of men aged under 45 in the UK. These are preventable deaths, if only the help and resources were available for those in need.

Despite the Conservatives manifesto identifying mental health as a “burning injustice” and a promise to “break the stigma” around mental illness they have not made any extra funding available.

Since 2009, the number of young people arriving in A&E with psychiatric problems has doubled whilst mental health services have faced cuts of £538million each year.

The decline in resources available to help people with mental health conditions can be seen in the falling numbers of mental health practitioners within the NHS. In 2010 there were over 41,000 qualified psychiatric nurses and by 2015 that number had fallen to 36,000.

A recent survey of bosses of NHS trusts in England showed that 80 per cent of them feared that they would have insufficient funding this year to provide timely, high-quality care to the growing numbers of people seeking mental health support.

Iain Duncan Smith’s fit-to-work tests coincided with 590 “additional” suicides and 279,000 cases of mental health problems, and one mental health charity reported that 21 per cent of their patients had experienced suicidal feelings due to the Work Capability Assessments.

DWP sanctions are affecting 100 people a day with a mental health diagnosis and causing those most at need to go without food, heat, and electricity.

Mental health problems are said to cost the UK an estimated £70bn to £100bn a year and are are responsible for up to 28 per cent of the total burden of health problems.

Mental health care is not a political beachball for the Tories to trot out any time they want to appear to care, the evidence is in their record and it’s a record that has been paid for with people’s lives.

It’s time for a properly funded NHS to be given the resources that it needs to combat this silent killer of the most vulnerable in our society, it’s time for change and that is why on this World Mental Health Day as on every other day I stand with those affected by the pain and stigma of mental illness.

Sophie Cook is the former Labour Party candidate for East Worthing & Shoreham, TV presenter and writer. She tweets here.

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