Has Your Local Council Joined the Mental Health Challenge?

When I first heard about The Mental Health Challenge my initial reaction was what a superb idea. To have a Councillor in each council who champions mental health issues. It ensure that mental health never gets forgotten among all of the other issues the council has to deal with, it gives the members of the public someone they can approach with mental health related issues they have. It seems an absolute no brainer to me.

The Mental Health Challenge ask local authorities to carry out ten actions which enables them to carry out their ability to promote mental health.

  1. Appoint an elected member as ‘mental health champion’ across the council
  2. Identify a lead officer for mental health to link in with colleagues across the council
  3. Follow the implementation framework for the mental health strategy where it is relevant to the council’s work and local needs
  4. Work to reduce inequalities in mental health in our community
  5. Work with the NHS to integrate health and social care support
  6. Promote well-being and initiate and support action on public mental health for example through our joint health and well-being strategy
  7. Tackle discrimination on the grounds of mental health in our community
  8. Encourage positive mental health in our schools, colleges and workplaces
  9. Pro-actively engage and listen to people of all ages and backgrounds about what they need for better mental health
  10. Sign up to the Time to Change pledge.*
The Challenge was set up by a collaboration between a number of top Mental Health organisations:
What I love about this challenge is it’s putting mental health campaigning into the centre of the political agenda. It’s ensuring that the people who make every day decisions for how our council tax is spent, who gets housing benefit, local services assistance etc. are thinking about mental health when they do so. We are so very easily forgotten when these decisions are made.
Let me give you an example of how we are forgotten…
I am currently receiving housing benefit, it is known I have mental health issues, I don’t hide this and I have filled out the relevant forms so that the council are aware they may need to speak to my Husband instead of me when I’m severely unwell. I’ve also written to the council a few times to inform them of what I’m about to tell you.
They have a policy where if they are informed of any changes to state benefits by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) then they will stop all payments of housing benefit. When I say any changes this includes if the DWP sends a letter, a form, or if they change the amount they are paying.
The council also doesn’t tell you they are stopping the payments, it is not until the day the payment is due that you know there is a problem. Their policy is to wait until you are panicking and you phone them. So far this has happened to me 3 times this year alone!
The last time was because the DWP sent me a form to confirm my Husband’s work details hadn’t changed since the last time they checked (which they hadn’t, meaning no change to my ESA, meaning there is absolutely no affect on my housing benefit).
The first time I phoned the council I was on hold for 90 minutes before I was hung up on. I also emailed them through their ‘secure email form’ on my account. Why I don’t know as I have never received a reply through this service. The next day I phoned again and after almost 30 minutes (at 8.30am) I got through to someone who grilled me for 10 minutes before telling me it was very simple to switch my benefit back on. I explained my rent was due in a couple of days and needed the missing payment and was told, “oh not even with simple cases like yours it will be at least a few weeks”
I tell you this because this is a fairly straight forward process, usually getting to talk to someone is more complicated and getting the issue sorted out is more complicated.
What I haven’t yet told you is that I went into severe crisis mode during this time. The worry over not being able to pay my rent, potentially being evicted, the fact that this was happening again for no apparent reason drove me to the edge. I had to get my mental health team involved to calm me down and help me cope with the situation. I needed additional medication for several days and suffered with psychosis and severe anxiety.
What I don’t understand are these things:
  • Why they feel the need to stop the payments at all, they could easily adjust payments to make back any overpayment if necessary
  • If they HAVE to stop the payments why they can’t notify people in advance, they have emails, addresses, phone numbers. How hard would it be to press a button and have an automated email go out?
  • Why is it so hard to get the payments going again? Why do we have to risk being evicted because they are weeks behind with their convoluted admin processes?
  • Why there is no consideration for how their actions affect the mental health of already fragile and sick people. There is a reason we are receiving these benefits. We are SICK! I’m not sat at home claiming for the fun of it.
  • Being given the third degree by a very rude, uncaring individual on the phone who doesn’t even have the ability to fix the situation isn’t helpful, it’s upsetting, and makes you feel more anxious, and more let down.

I truly believe having something like the Mental Health Challenge in place and someone who can seriously look into things like this will help.

When I tweeted to say I was disappointed that Bristol City Council hadn’t signed up yet, our Mayor responded to say he took Mental Health seriously.
I hope this is the case because the above situation is just one example of where the council in Bristol are letting people with mental health issues down right now.
I’ve written to my local ward Councillors asking them to sign up. The Mental Health Challenge has a letter drafted to help you out, which I added to with my own personal edits. It’s a great place to start, and they have a map for you to check if your council have signed up already. If yours hasn’t then get on the case!
If, like me, you are in Bristol then do get on the case, let’s get them making some changes and appointing someone, you can check who your ward Councillors are for Bristol here.
*- The Ten Actions have been taken directly from the website of The Mental Health Challenge to ensure accuracy. This is as they were posted on the website as at 21/05/2015.

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