30/08/2016 13:07 BST | Updated 26/08/2017 06:12 BST

Corbyn, Smith, And The Mental Health Crisis


The UK is in a mental health crisis. Millions of people all across the country suffer in some way with mental health issues. In treatment they face long waits and insufficient care. Many regions are without the correct services to treat people. People are misdiagnosed and ignored.

The problem seems to come from a lack of funding, and the money that is placed into mental health care is almost exclusively in treatment, and not prevention or research. According to a report by The Mental Health Foundation (MHF, Fundamental Facts About Mental Health, 2015), only 5.5% of UK health research spending goes to mental health study. With one in four adults suffer with mental health issues, there is an obvious imbalance.

Of course, these problems aren't helped thanks to the massively underfunded and understaffed National Health Service, meaning the relatively small and insufficient degree of care and attention mental health and well being is given in the NHS is coming from a body that is also ineffectively and insufficiently maintained and supported.

Finding a solution to this crisis needs to be an important part of any politician's manifesto. With the Labour Party currently undergoing an election for leader, we should investigate what they pledge to do.

In September 2015, shortly after his election to Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn created the position of Shadow Mental Health minister for his cabinet, appointing Luciana Berger. This was unparalleled, and it demonstrated that tackling this mental health crisis was at the forefront of Corbyn's political agenda.

This, unfortunately, is no longer the case.

After the calamitous immediate impact of Brexit, Corbyn's cabinet fell apart. Many of its members were dropped or resigned. Berger was among them, resigning as she believed that Corbyn would be unable to unite a now fragmented Labour party. With her went the position of Shadow Minister for Mental Health.

Since Berger's resignation, the position has not been refilled, instead becoming part of Diane Abbott's role of Shadow Minister for Public Health. It is currently unknown if the position will be re-established if Corbyn were to be re-appointed as Labour leader, but it seems dubious.

This reshuffling of his cabinet could imply two things:

  • That it has become of lesser importance to him (which is quite possible, considering the disaster that was Brexit)
  • That he believes that the mental health crisis can be resolved by fixing the current problems with the NHS, which he plans to do by re-nationalising it and have it fully publicly funded.

Putting the NHS back in public hands could go strides into resolving problems in the NHS. However this could only have a small, though positive effect on mental health care and treatment, without a huge increase of focus on mental health itself.

This too, seems to be the case with Corbyn's plans. According to his website, he pledges to "...ensure parity for mental health services" . This could be exactly what is needed. However, without a specific Minister for Mental Health, it could remain the case that those suffering with mental health issues will not get sufficient representation. It seems this policy shows an interconnected view of the problems with the NHS, and they can all be solved with the same treatment.

Owen Smith's position, whilst on the surface is similar, is slightly troubling. Recently, Smith has said that he became aware of the massive crisis in mental health care when his brother, who suffers from epilepsy spent a week on an A&E stretcher without receiving proper treatment. This is testament to his character. It also shows that mental health is something close to his heart. This on the surface shows a man who would be ideal to tackle the vast problems in UK mental health care.

But there is more to this.

In the past, Smith worked for the leading pharmaceutical company Pfizer, as head of policy and government relations (in other words, a lobbyist). This shows that he has great knowledge of mental health care, but also that he may favour medication as treatment over other methods such as CBT.

His sector knowledge, although probably greater than Corbyn's, comes from working with a commercial healthcare enterprise. If the solution to the mental health crisis comes through parity with a nationalised NHS, which may well be the case, then this is troubling.

Smith's recent mistake of calling Corbyn a "Lunatic" may prove to be emblematic of his views towards mental health. Though perhaps said in the heat of the moment, this terminology is unacceptable.

The use of that word only goes to support the deep stigma surrounding mental health. While he may support and fund mental health care were he appointed, his mere usage of that word has had a small, but real negative impact on those suffering with mental health, similar to the abuse those who suffer from mental health experience every day.

It shows a cavalier attitude to mental health, and as such, illustrates that he is not fully capable of dealing with a crisis of this nature and size.