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expert reaction to comments made by Work and Pensions Secretary about Britain’s approach to mental health

Scientists react to comments made by Mel Stride about Britain’s approach to mental health. 


Dr Lade Smith CBE, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said

“It’s disappointing to see the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions diminish and misrepresent people with mental illness. This is not simply a ‘culture’ that will go away on its own. People are not pretending to be sick, they really are sick.

“There has been a significant increase in poverty, deprivation, housing insecurity and homelessness, loneliness and isolation over the last 15 years and these issues are all associated with depression and anxiety. It is therefore not surprising that we have seen a dramatic rise in people struggling with mental illness, including those who are at risk of self-harm and suicide.

“The Government’s plan to ratchet up sanctioning people with mental illness for not working is unlikely to work – it isn’t working now. These proposals are likely to make people feel worse due to the hardship and debt they will face, which will ultimately cost the NHS and the taxpayer far more in the long run.

“We are dealing with serious illnesses that affect the lives of millions of people, yet many can be prevented and treated effectively with timely access to mental healthcare services.

“There are better ways of supporting people with mental illness to live healthy and productive lives, that are likely to be more successful. For example, the Individual Placement Support programme provides tailored help for people with severe mental illness as they try to secure appropriate work. They should make these types of supportive services more available to all those with mental illness.

“With the right resources, mental health services could support people before they become too unwell to work. I sincerely hope Mel Stride will reconsider his approach.”


Lea Milligan, CEO, MQ, said:

“It’s disappointing to hear the comments from the Minister referring to Mental Health as “a culture” as if for the thousands of individuals suffering from a mental illness have chosen to be in that position. That being said there is a difference between the normal experiences of life that result in sadness and negative emotions and a diagnosis of common mental disorders (anxiety or depression) or serious mental illness (psychosis). With the right support networks these instances of normal sadness and distress should build resilience and help to develop coping skills for later life. At the same time however we have seen a continued increase in the number of eating disorder referrals, downward pressure on the mental health of the most vulnerable due to the cost of living crisis and a continued increase in drug related deaths linked to addiction. All pointing to a worsening mental health at the serious end of the spectrum

“Destigmatisation is a net positive – it allows us to help more people and to save lives and shouldn’t be impeded by dragging mental health into a culture war mindset.  Of all global spending into health research, only 7.4% is invested into mental health research. 26 times more gets invested into cancer research than research into all mental health conditions. That means that when it comes to eating disorders, anxiety disorders, major depressive disorders, psychosis and other conditions there is a risk that people will turn to social media or other less than trusted sources for answers,. Which makes people vulnerable to misinformation and may lead them to self-diagnose. This is exacerbated by the lack of investment in care services and long waiting lists to see medical professionals.”  


Declared interests

The nature of this story means everyone quoted above could be perceived to have a stake in it. As such, our policy is not to ask for interests to be declared – instead, they are implicit in each person’s affiliation.

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