Andrew Jones MP column: Awareness weeks can help bring about change

Caring for dementia patients
Caring for dementia patients

This week is both Mental Health Awareness Week and Dementia Awareness Week – both causes which are very close to my heart.

Mental health is an often forgotten aspect of healthcare in general. There are many reasons for this. Mental health issues still have a stigma attached to them; there is still the ‘pull yourself together’ attitude in some quarters; mental health problems are not instantly recognisable in the same way physical health issues often are.

One in four adults and one in ten children are likely to have a mental health problem in any one year. However only one quarter of these will receive ongoing medical treatment. Many others suffer alone or rely on family and friends solely for support.

Mental health problems can be a killer. In 2013, the last year for which full figures are available, more than 6,000 adults took their own lives. Seventy-eight per cent of these suicides were men. Suicide is the biggest killer of young adult males in the country. Mental health issues are frequently cited as a factor.

Over the last six years I have seen huge strides forward in tackling mental health issues nationally and locally. Mental health has received parity with physical health in law. The Government’s Mental Health Task Force reported earlier this year. I think we all recognise that mental health has not received the focus it should previously and so the Prime Minister announced a new approach to mental health based on recommendations from the taskforce.

The Government is providing an extra £1 billion a year for mental health care to make sure it gets that focus. This will support one million more people with mental health problems to access high quality care that they are not getting today. 

Much of the criticism of mental health policy is that it is designed to treat people when they reach a stage of crisis. Now the emphasis will also be on early intervention through improved access to care. We should be preventing people reaching the stage of crisis and breakdown.

The Government is implementing the first-ever mental health access and waiting time standards. This means 75 per cent of people referred for talking therapies to treat common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety will start their treatment within six weeks, and 95 per cent within 18 weeks. Patients experiencing psychosis for the first time must be treated within two weeks.

In February, as a Minister for Transport, I attended and spoke at the first Mental Health and Transport Summit. Passenger Transport magazine described the summit as one which ‘was a tipping point, moving the issue from the margins to the mainstream’. The summit highlighted the effect public transport design and capacity can have on those suffering from mental illness such as anxiety and depression.

Locally in Harrogate and Knaresborough we are seeing a step change in mental health support. In 2014 I opened the Valley Gardens Resource Centre. This provides a single point of access to primary care and community mental health teams.

At the start of this article I mentioned that it is also Dementia Awareness Week. Dementia is a cruel disease but we need to remember that it is just that – a disease. It is not an inevitability and is not just part of getting old. There are increasing numbers of people in their mid-40s living with the disease.

Throughout my time as a Member of Parliament I have offered support to dementia charities and support groups. As Dementia Awareness Week began I was determined to show my backing for the campaign to beat this terrible disease.

Last Friday morning I joined Dementia Friends, Carers Resource and Over the Rainbow Care for an awareness raising coffee morning at St Peter’s Church in Harrogate. The aim of these events is to raise awareness for dementia, and highlights the range of support services available.

On Saturday, I supported an event organised by Dementia Forward and North Yorkshire Sport. It was a ‘Swim the Channel’ event at Harrogate Hydro. This event highlighted the need to make facilities throughout North Yorkshire more dementia friendly.

And later this year I will be working with the Alzheimer’s Society and Harrogate Borough Council to repeat last year’s Memory Walk in the Valley Gardens which saw 60 people take part.

In all, we raised nearly £2000. This year’s Memory Walk will be in September and I want to make it bigger and better.

More details will be announced nearer the time and I hope that together we can play our part in beating this dreadful disease.