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At Last, Politicians Are Taking Mental Health Seriously

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This morning I went along to the Royal College of Psychiatrists' office to hear Ed Miliband's speech on mental health - and I was rather excited. Partly because I'm a bit of a politics nerd, but more because of what the speech represents.

Ed, the leader of the Labour party, has a million things in his in-tray. A challenging economy, rising energy prices, badgers, you name it. And yet he chose to speak to the national media about mental health. Whether or not you agree with his politics, the very fact that he made this speech is a good thing - it's a sign that the subject we've been campaigning about for so long has moved up the political agenda.

Ed told us mental health was one of the biggest challenges in our country - affecting millions of people, old and young, rich and poor, north and south. He acknowledged the stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental health, preventing people from seeking help, telling their employers, or speaking to family and friends. And he urged us to fight against this last form of intolerance just as we have fought against racism, sexism and homophobia.

The speech also covered the failings of the Work Capability Assessment, the role of employers, and the need for more and better crisis care - all areas people have told Mind are important to them and that we campaign on. He argued that successive governments had prioritised physical health over mental health, and promised that a Labour government would reverse this by rewriting the NHS Constitution to guarantee access to services, integrating physical and mental health services and expanding the use of personal health budgets. And importantly, he emphasised that mental health is not just a challenge the NHS should address, but something for everyone everywhere to take on. At the Labour conference in September, Ed set out his ambitions around creating "one nation" - a nation where everybody prospers and everybody plays their part. It's clear that he's looking at mental health through this prism.

But the language around cuts to mental health services was guarded. When Mind asked our supporters what the most pressing issues were, they told us that it was access to services. And having spoken to many of our local Mind's over the last few weeks, it's clear that service providers are having to do less with more as local authorities and the NHS try to make savings. I'm not sure what the Labour party would do to stop this.

Nonetheless, for me the speech is part of a good year for mental health in Parliament. MPs' understanding of mental health is increasing all the time. The Mental Health Discrimination Bill is making its way through the Commons with support from all sides. Some MPs even feel able to talk about their own mental health problems now. And we've had a number of conversations with politicians about the need for more and better crisis care, and the message has been well understood.

I know that lots of people are cynical about politics, and often with good reason: Parliament still seems to be dominated by able-bodied, privileged white men; the 'Punch and Judy' atmosphere of Prime Minister's Questions makes politics look silly; and the expenses scandal ruined many people's faith in politics. I'm not quite so cynical because the majority of the MPs I meet work hard to make life better for their constituents. They're motivated not by power or greed, but by a desire to bring about change. But whatever your attitude to politics and politicians, the fact remains that the decisions made in Westminster affect all of our lives. That's why it's so important to ensure that politicians are talking about mental health - and if the leader of the party is doing so, you can be sure that others are too.