So the Conservative candidate for Cambridge, Chamali Fernando, get herself in hot water over suggesting that mentally ill people should wear wristbands.
To be fair, a lot of the ensuing criticism was over-hyped in the media and taken out of context of her full statement, although some of the main criticisms were valid.
Fernando is standing as a candidate for a position where (in theory) she will be expected to represent the people of a constituency and their interests. In representing those people (again, in theory) she is supposed to ensure that she understands their needs and concerns, and present a valid and appropriate case to other members of the House of Commons.
To be able to present the case for her constituents she must ensure that the information is accurate and whatever she is proposing is appropriate for the people she is representing.
Although much of her statement was over looked by the mainstream media, her statement on wristbands clearly demonstrated that she does not have a fundamental knowledge of the debilitating effects of mental health problems and their effects on everyday life for those people.
She said “Maybe it’s something as simple as there are certain conditions which are more common, where people can wear a wristband to identify they have that condition, so that then we can perhaps, not diagnose, but spot it earlier and ensure that we deal with it.”
Many people with mental health problems have enough trouble getting through a day let alone engaging with society in general. To people without mental health problems it may seem a simple case of ‘pulling oneself together’ and getting on with things that need to be done. But for a person experiencing mental health problems just coping with the effects of their brains misbehaving can be a full-time exasperating and draining task. The simplest of functions can become a major hurdle to overcome.
We can understand that Fernando was making a statement about more being done to raise awareness of mental health problems, and improve understanding among professionals such as teachers, lawyers, health professionals, and so on. Her reference to wristbands was meant to be something that would identify people with mental health problems at an early stage of contact so those professionals would be able to engage with them in an appropriate manner.
Perhaps Fernando was thinking of a similar idea to the SOS bracelets that some people wear to identify physical health conditions.
However, mental health problems are still a taboo subject in the view of the wider public. The stigma is still there and fuelled by irresponsible reporting in the media and so on. The last thing most people with mental health problems want is to stand out when they are spending much of their lives and energy trying to become part of wider society.
Fernando states that as a barrister “I’ve had to deal with people in those situations. I’m not trained to deal with people in those situations.”
Neither does Fernando seem to have real understanding of the effects of living with a mental health condition, and perhaps she should take time to learn about reality before making statements on the subject.
Unfortunately, this is typical of many politicians and political candidates. They make statements to gain votes and popularity without any real knowledge of the subject they are referring to.
If she were genuinely concerned about the subject of mental health and not her own potential career choice then she would not have made reference to wristbands. It is something anyone with a reasonable knowledge of mental health would see as a very unhelpful statement and it would not enter their minds as an option or solution.
What Fernando should be concerned about is the way mental health services have been cut to the bone on the front line.
The hard fact is that mental health services are in crisis. They can no longer cope with their basic tasks, and care has taken a very significant nose-dive as a result of the current government’s policies and interference – a government dominated by her own party.
People are not getting the care they need and many have found themselves left alone to cope with horrendous conditions and no support because services are having to restrict their services to emergencies and the immediate care of very unwell people. In effect, they are only able to cope with the most serious cases – and then they struggle.
Medical and social care staff have to cope with ridiculous caseloads. We know of one psychiatrist who is trying to cope with 160 cases on their books. Within that caseload there are statutory requirements to see patients at specific intervals. In reality the consultant is unable to do this, and there are no signs that the situation will improve. In fact, it is going to get worse.
There are social care staff who are in a similar position. A ridiculous number of cases they are expected to manage – which inevitably means that the majority of cases are not managed.
There is no capacity within the mental health system to provide care to anyone but the most severely ill. New referrals are delayed for unreasonable amounts of time – we know of cases which have been delayed for over a year, and there are some which are delayed for much longer making the person’s mental health issues much more difficult to treat in the long run.
If something goes wrong inevitably it is the front line staff who become the first targets of criticism and the subjects of investigation. It is they system that is at fault. The staff can only work with the resources they are given and there are only so many hours in a day.
Mental health services have had a high reliance on charities for many years. Now, many of those charities have faced cuts to grants and other income as local authority spending has been cut to the bone and councils are forced to divert their limited resources to other essential areas.
These are the things Fernando should be concerned about. These are the things that she should be addressing within her own party who are mostly responsible for the disgraceful state of mental health care in the UK.
If another area of healthcare, such as cancer treatment, faced the same problems as mental health there would be a public outcry. But mental health has always been the poor relation within the healthcare system, even though it affects every area of our society in one way or another.
So – wristbands for the mentally ill? Perhaps only in the most serious cases – such as politicians and other self-interested narcissists who have no concept of the real world and the problems people face.