by Luciana Berger MP

We are now half-way through Mental Health Awareness Week, and all over the country, in schools, colleges, workplaces and communities, people are talking about their mental health.

As ever, Labour Students are at the forefront, campaigning for better resources in higher and further education, and for a properly-funded NHS. We’ve come a long way in tackling the stigma that attaches to mental illness. Thanks to prominent campaigners and public figures, many people feel more able to be open about their mental health. We are all developing a lexicon to describe our mental health, and to articulate feelings and conditions which once were taboo.

This Mental Health Awareness Week’s theme is ‘tackling stress’, something most students have experienced. As school, and further and higher education, has become focussed on endless high-stakes exams and assessments, and away from the joy of learning, many students know the pressure that can lead to stress, anxiety and worse. Our recent report by the education and health select committees in Parliament talked about the relentlessness of the exam regime and the narrowing of the curriculum being a contributory factor to young people’s mental illness.

We need to continue to campaign for proper resources for mental health services. In so many places, access to child and adolescent mental health services (CAHMS) is almost impossible, with long waiting lists and high thresholds just to get in. Young people are being let down by the system, and we need to fix that. One way would be to raise the age to 25 for those being treated in CAHMS, so there is no abrupt and damaging transition to adult services. But even more importantly, we need to tackle the root causes of mental distress and ill health. We know there is a solid link between poverty and poor mental health, and links to traumatic events in childhood, poor housing, family breakdown, domestic violence, bullying, and worries about money.

If students are living in sub-standard housing, in dangerous or noisy neighbourhoods, worrying about student debt, with a huge workload on top, we should not be surprised so many become mentally unwell. If we view mental illness as a social justice issue, and tackle the root causes, then we can tackle the mental health crisis in our country. One in four of the population contend with a mental health condition at some point in their lives, but amongst students the proportion is higher. This is a terrible indictment of our system, but also a tragic waste of a time in your life which should be filled with adventure, learning and joy.

As President of the Labour Campaign for Mental Health, I am delighted to be working alongside Labour Students, the trade unions such as Community, and others to campaign for better mental health services and an end to stigma and discrimination. Mental Health Awareness Week is still ongoing. It is not too late to organise an event on campus or amongst your friends to get talking about mental health, and send a message all the way to Whitehall that we demand change.

Luciana Berger is the Labour & Co-operative MP for Liverpool Wavertree, and President of the Labour Campaign for Mental Health

Categories: Campaigning

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