A new campaign aims to force the government to scrap its insistence that finding a job or returning to work is an important health “outcome” for those with mental distress.
The claim that stable employment is “an important outcome for recovery for people with a mental health problem” angered members of the mental health survivor movement after it appeared in January’s NHS Long Term Plan (pdf).
Now the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) has launched a new campaign aimed at persuading the government to drop the claim from the document.
It marked the start of its campaign with a free picnic in Hyde Park yesterday (Wednesday), despite torrential rain, which it called Picnics Are A Health Outcome and which it hopes will also reinvigorate the mental health survivor community.
MHRN believes that the mental health system is now designed “to get people off benefits and to make sure people don’t take too long off work”, particularly through the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme.
Disabled activists have been warning for several years of the government’s increasing emphasis on linking health and job outcomes.
When the government launched its work, health and disability strategy in December 2017, disabled campaigners criticised this “cruel” and “unacceptable” emphasis.
Among the strategy’s plans were to more than double the number of employment advisers sent in to work within IAPT services, which provide treatment for people with anxiety and depression.
The strategy also revealed that the government was running trials to test different ways of delivering “joined up health and work support” in settings such as GP surgeries.
Now MHRN has launched a campaign to fight back at the increasing emphasis on the idea of work as a mental health outcome.
Denise McKenna, an MHRN co-founder, said: “We have nothing against work; we are all for good employment.
“But we believe that should not be the goal for mental health services. They should be helping people to relieve people of their mental distress.
“When people go to see a therapist now, they know that the therapist has an ulterior motive.”
This focus on employment is combined with a strong target-driven culture, she said, leading to people with severe and enduring mental health problems being unable to secure specialist mental health treatment because they are unable to return to work.
MHRN believes that this “ulterior motive” of therapists destroys the relationship of trust between service-user and service-provider.
McKenna said: “The whole back-to-work thing has completely destroyed mental health services.”
The treatment options are either cognitive behavioural therapy, through IAPT, or heavy doses of drugs, she said.
She added: “Our objection is that work is something that is separate from treatment for mental health.
“This is basically denying people proper treatment for mental health. All they are getting is behavioural changes to force them temporarily into work.”
McKenna said MHRN also believed that it was time to “start rebuilding our community”, after the closure of day centres and other cuts and reforms to mental health services that have left many members of the survivor community isolated.
She said: “The government have done everything in their power to smash the survivor community.
“The idea is that we are a community, and this [event] is a good starting point.”
Picture by Penny Shaughnessy
A note from the editor:
Please consider making a voluntary financial contribution to support the work of DNS and allow it to continue producing independent, carefully-researched news stories that focus on the lives and rights of disabled people and their user-led organisations.
Please do not contribute if you cannot afford to do so, and please note that DNS is not a charity. It is run and owned by disabled journalist John Pring and has been from its launch in April 2009.
Thank you for anything you can do to support the work of DNS…