Big Society ‘could open door to opportunities’


The government’s “Big Society” agenda could provide an opportunity to put into practice many of the “long-cherished principles” held by people with mental health difficulties according to a disabled journalist and activist.

Mark Brown, editor of the mental health magazine One in Four, says the Big Society provides a “great opportunity for positive change for people with mental health difficulties”.

In a new pamphlet, Better Mental Health in a Bigger Society?, he says the government’s aim to empower communities, open up public services and promote social action through the Big Society offers “surprising overlaps” with some of the ideas and changes that “many people with mental health difficulties have long hoped for”.

The pamphlet, written by Brown and social entrepreneur David Floyd, says that ideas such as co-production, personalisation, supporting people in their communities, user-led organisations, and choice and control all “fit very well with Big Society ideas”.

But Brown and Floyd accept that people with mental health difficulties are “understandably worried” about cuts to public sector spending, while many fear that “opportunities to take power into their own hands will not be extended to them” as they are to others, and that stigma could see them excluded from wider Big Society community activities.

The paper, published by the Mental Health Providers Forum, provides examples of projects that deliver the non-medical support people need to stay well, but warns that many are threatened by funding cuts as local authorities and the NHS “retreat ‘behind the front line’ to concentrate on ‘core services’”.

The paper is also critical of the mental health service-user movement, many of whose members, it claims, see mental health services as “uncaring, inefficient and morally compromised” and consider themselves locked in a “form of liberation struggle on behalf of themselves and other people with mental health difficulties”.

Brown and Floyd say it is vital that decision-making and involvement are not limited to a “small, unrepresentative group of people with mental health difficulties” but extended to the “silent majority”.

6 December 2011