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If mental health services were better and more integrated into the health and social care system, less sufferers would need to claim disability related benefits.

However, rather than addressing the lack of medical and financial support for mental health patients, the government has adopted a position of blaming and punishing sufferers with draconian austerity cuts. This approach is not only counter-productive, it also harms the economy because less mental health sufferers are in the position to look for and/or hold down a job.

Whilst the Conservatives have claimed that they take the issue of mental health very seriously, there actions are yet to prove this. Funding cuts from central government has resulted in local authorities being forced to reduce the amount of services available to people with a mental health disability. This in turn has resulted in a rapid growth in disability benefit claims, purely related to mental health issues alone.

Rather than adopting a sensible, compassionate and more progressive approach to tackling mental health problems, the government has continuously failed to provide crucial financial and medical support to help sufferers improve their lives and job prospects.

Classing mental health problems on the same level as physical disabilities is long overdue. Unless the government and local authorities take immediate action to protect mental health services from austerity cuts, the lives of those suffering with mental health problems will remain on hold.

Britain is at risk of losing millions of potential workers to the scourge of mental health issues. By improving the quality and amount of support available to people with mental health problems, more of those affected would be in work and the economy would benefit as a result. Furthermore, less people would be in the position of needing to claim disability related benefits to make ends meet.

As a person with mental health problems myself, a recent visit to my GP left me in no doubt than Britain is still living in the dark ages in regard to mental health medicine. After asking to be referred to a mental health specialist, I was promptly told: “Sorry I cannot do that, you’ll have to refer yourself to a support group”. Whether this is indeed true, I do not know. But it does perhaps demonstrate how some doctors are failing to give mental health the respect and recognition it deserves.

Mental health disabilities can be truly devastating on a persons life, their family and their their ability to function as part of our society. In fact, some mental health conditions can be, for some, far more disabling than physical disabilities.

I will never forget the day I left home in the early hours of the morning with the thought of suicide on my mind. Thankfully I managed to talk myself out of it, but it should never have happened in the first place.

Positive reform, the improvement and adequate funding of mental health services should be in the forefront of all policy makers minds. We must not continue to ignore the devastating impact of mental health disabilities on people’s lives and the knock-on effect is has on our nations finances, families and communities.

Steven Preece, Welfare Weekly Editor