Today (Tuesday 10 October) is World Mental Health Day. I love these annual awareness raising events, and I'll be tweeting away all day. But - I can't help also thinking "and then what?"
I was recently selected to stand for the Liberal Democrats in the local elections next year: in Oval Ward, Lambeth. And now I'm thinking about what I can do to use my campaign (and, if I'm lucky enough, my position as a councillor) to improve mental health services in Lambeth. I'm especially keen to hear from local residents on the topic of mental health, and what they need and want from mental health services.
Back in 2012, following many years of depressive episodes, I was hospitalised with a very severe mental illness: Postpartum Psychosis. My baby and I were lucky enough to get a place in a Mother and Baby Unit, at the Bethlem Royal Hospital (part of the South London and Maudsley NHS trust). After 12 weeks as an inpatient, and recovering well from the horrifying Psychosis, I felt truly lucky to be alive. I left psychiatric hospital with an immense amount of gratitude, a long term diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and a realisation that not everyone is so lucky.
I've been able to use much of the last five years to tell our story, to help reduce the stigma of mental illness, and campaign across the country for better mental health services. I've spoken out to large medical conferences, training events, in Parliament, told the Duchess of Cambridge of my experience (pictured in the tweet below) and even helped the EastEnders team with Stacey's Postpartum psychosis storyline!
Kathryn, right, on the EastEnders set with James Bye, who plays Martin Fowler, Lacey Turner, who plays Stacey Slater, and fellow campaigner Eve Canavan
Awareness around mental health and mental illness has improved. Recent initiatives such as the Government's plan to train at least one Mental Health First Aider for each secondary school in England are very welcome developments - but I know we can do better!
I've been a member of the Liberal Democrats since 2005. It was seeing Norman Lamb take such a strong position on mental health services, leading mental health policy in the coalition government, which really encouraged me to think the Lib Dems can make a real difference in this area. And for me it's going to start locally, here in Lambeth.
Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb, right, has been a leading campaigner in parliament in raising the profile of mental health. He is pictured at Lambeth's Riverside Medical Centre with Vauxhall parliamentary candidate George Turner during this summer's general election campaign as the Liberal Democrats launched their policy on the NHS
Awareness raising days such as today are brilliant - but what is the point of increased awareness, if people are met with lengthy waiting lists and lack of access to local specialist mental health services? Like Norman, I am committed to reducing the disparity between mental health and physical health services - and to ensuring that all Lambeth residents can be confident that, when they seek help for a mental health problem, the right services are there for them, when and where they need them.
It's a hard task: there are so many different bodies responsible for healthcare within London, that it is hard to make change happen. Sometimes good intentions by policy makers get lost within a very complex health system. But it's not impossible, and the Black Thrive project, part of Healthwatch Lambeth, and Brixton’s wonderful Mosaic Clubhouse are already doing important work. I'm really looking forward to hearing more from local residents about what you need and want from mental health services: whether that's as a service user, a carer, a staff member, a charity worker, a student or a teacher.
For me, I'm going to be thinking about four key areas:
- the Mental Health Act, and the relationship between criminal justice and mental illness
- Mental health inequalities, and discrimination in mental health treatments, diagnoses - and outcomes
- The stepped care approach of mental health care: are Lambeth residents getting the right care, in the right place, at the right time?
- Mental health as a public health outcome (and the role of the Lambeth Health and Wellbeing Board, and the London Health Board)
So "happy" world mental health day to you - but let's not rest on our laurels. There's lots of work still to do.