Mental Health debate December 9th, 2015


I want to raise the case of one of my constituents, Kane, who was only 18 years old - the same age as my eldest son - when he took his own life.

Kane had grown up in care, in foster homes and institutions, and had a history of mental health problems.

But those existing difficulties were then compounded by the problems that society threw at him.

Already extremely vulnerable, his unemployment benefits were suddenly stopped after he missed a doctor’s appointment.

Kane, who had ambitions to become a doctor and had been trying to raise a deposit on a flat, is one of the many people with mental health issues who are increasingly being sanctioned through no fault of their own.

Then Kane was hit again when the money-lender Wonga, with whom he had taken out a pay day loan, cleared out his bank account in one fell swoop in part payment of his debt. Kane was left absolutely destitute. Literally.  Without a penny to his name. 

Hours later, Kane hanged himself.

A shocking story. A young boy, who already had more than his fair share of problems in life, left penniless by a pay day loan company. After already being penalised by the state who withdrew his benefits, it must have seemed like he had nowhere else to turn to for help. For support. And for a little human understanding.

Of course, Kane is not alone. He is one of 16 men who, on average, commit suicide every year in my constituency. Many more attempt to take their own lives.

It’s a truly miserable fact that men are three times more likely to take their own lives than women.

As you have already heard, nationally, the male suicide rate is the highest it has been for nearly 15 years. Shockingly, it is now the leading cause of death for men aged between 20 and 34 in England and Wales.

It would be wrong to speculate about the reasons, but it seems irrefutable to me that economic circumstances is playing some part.

Since April, more than one in four – 28 per cent – of people who have contacted Citizens Advice in my constituency – many of them with financial problems, benefit problems, debt problems - describe themselves as suffering from some form of mental health problem.

For we all know that poverty and ill-health are inextricably linked.

And ill-health includes mental ill-health.

Of course, economics also plays a huge part in the treatment of people with mental health problems.

The number of mental health beds in Greater Manchester has been cut by 5.9 per cent in the last five years, despite increasing demand.

Hundreds of patients have instead been taken to private clinics up to 260 miles away - at huge extra cost to the NHS incidentally - because of the shortage of mental health beds locally.

67 boys and girls, aged 16 and 17, have also been placed on adult beds, despite national guidelines which state this is not appropriate.

At the same time, figures released by the member for Liverpool Wavertree, show that 10 Clinical Commissioning Groups in Greater Manchester are cutting spending on mental health services, despite the Government’s promises to increase spending.

But amid this gloom, there are a few rays of hope.

The Sanctuary, run by the Big Life Group, provides mental health support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to residents in Tameside and Glossop, Trafford, Manchester and Salford, Wigan, Leigh and Bolton.

I had the honour of officially launching The Sanctuary’s new 24/7 crisis phone line in September for people experiencing anxiety, panic attacks, depression or suicidal thoughts.

In just its second month, almost 1,000 people rang the phone line.

A brilliant new service, used by people who really need help.

But here’s the rub.

If you have a problem with your heart, you will get to a heart specialist relatively quickly, even in our current NHS.

But if you have a problem inside your head, where do you turn?

If you are suicidal – and some are – where do you go?

An ambulance is increasingly unlikely to arrive within eight minutes.

And even if you get to hospital eventually, there may not be a bed for you. Especially if you are young.

Parity of esteem. A fine phrase. But in practical terms, we are light years away from achieving it.

That is the challenge for all of us working for a better deal for people with mental health issues. 

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