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The government is launching an all-out assault on people with anxiety and depression

Rather than tackle the cause of “sick-note culture”, the Tories are simply scapegoating people with mental illnesses.

By Rosena Allin-Khan

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is “Movement: moving more for our mental health”. As a keen athlete myself, I know that going out for a run, or letting off some steam in the boxing ring, is a great way to de-stress and manage my own mental health.

As a politician, I am also eager to reflect on our political movement on mental health too. In recent weeks it has become clear that the Tories are hell-bent on dragging us backwards when it comes to mental health. Successive ministers have been peddled out to decry a “mental health culture that has gone too far” and insist on pushing those with a mental illness back into the workplace.

Never would a minister insist that patients with multiple sclerosis were idlers. We would be aghast at the suggestion that cancer patients are spending too much time on the chemotherapy ward and not enough time working. Yet, the government thinks that launching an all-out assault on people with anxiety or depression is acceptable.

It is true that mental illness is impacting the workforce. Last year, more than a million people were given a sick note by doctors for a mental health condition, accounting for almost 10 per cent of all sick notes issued in the entirety of 2023. Mental illness is a leading cause of long-term sickness. The cost to our economy is huge, with £118bn being lost annually.

However, the Tories’ diagnosis of the cause of this problem is wrong. Rather than fanning the flames of the culture war against those with depression and anxiety, they should take a second to look at their own record.

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For the first time in history, the number of people on the waiting list for mental health support exceeds two million. Patients are being left to languish while their conditions deteriorate exponentially. Without prompt access to support, it is no wonder that more people are struggling to get into work.

On my shifts in A&E as a doctor, I see first-hand the human cost of the Tories’ disgraceful record on mental health. Emaciated patients being carried in having self-harmed; exhausted mums and dads waiting apprehensively for news of their child who has swallowed a bottle of pills; despondent patients coming to us for help in desperation because the wait for access to support has been too long and too arduous. This is the reality of the Tories’ failure.

It is abundantly clear that the government has given up on parity of esteem. It has scrapped its plans to reform the Mental Health Act, binned its ten-year mental health strategy and failed to improve services. If the Tories are unable to drag up standards, then Labour must.

Labour has a set of truly transformative policies for mental health. Our plan to recruit 8,500 additional mental health staff to bring down waiting lists will be integral to ensuring that patients can be seen quickly.

We will put early intervention and prevention at the forefront by ensuring that there is mental health support available to our young people in every school and an open-access mental health hub in every community in England.

The Tories continue to put mental health on the back-burner. Demand for services has never been higher. Patients are being left behind. The only way to end the degradation of our NHS and mental health services is with a general election so that Labour can get on with the job of cleaning up the Tories’ mess.

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