On the Sunday morning of Jeremy Corbyn’s first full day as leader of the Labour Party and the official opposition to the Government, he snubbed the traditional interview on the Andrew Marr Show. Instead he attended a constituency event in support of his local NHS Mental Health Trust.
Even with this early indicator, the prominence Mr Corbyn has giving to mental health in his first few days in post has taken many in the sector by surprise. On Monday he announced that Luciana Berger would become the first Shadow Minister for Mental Health. This post, appointed at Cabinet level, is unusual in that it does not have a similar government post to shadow. Instead, mental health forms one part of a much wider brief held by a junior minister in the Department of Health.
Then, at the first Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) since his election, Mr Corbyn devoted two of his questions to mental health. Having asked members of the public to email him questions they would like asked, he said he had received over 1000 specifically about mental health. The two questions, from a service user and a mental health professional, both focussed on the impact of cuts to services, asking what the Government was going to do to help service users.
PMQs are not for policy detail, there was never going to be a detailed reply from the Prime Minister setting out government priorities and goals for the next five years. The reason why the developments of the last few days are so important are less to do with the detail and all to do with the statement being made about political priorities.
This is important firstly (and most obviously) because Jeremy Corbyn has clearly decided that mental health will be front and centre of his policy programme. Secondly, it means the Prime Minister and his government will be wary of being outmanoeuvred. Mental health knows no particular demographic, people from all backgrounds and political allegiances are affected. If the Prime Minister feels that his opponent’s focus on mental health could damage him politically by attracting support to Labour, he may respond by increasing his Government’s own emphasis. An early indicator would be whether the mental health portfolio is given its own ministerial brief to match Labour’s.
OCD Action has no political allegiance. We will work with any party or politician to improve mental health services and raise awareness. We, in common with the rest of sector, are also aware of any number of stories showing ever increasing difficulties accessing the right provision and support though mental health services. This renewed focus on mental health is only a few days old, and nothing substantive has yet happened. If does, however, mean that there can be some cautious optimism about the place mental health will now occupy on the political agenda.
OCD Action's proposals for improving diagnosis, treatment and support for those affected by OCD can be found in our Call to Action.