Herald Column: August 29

One of the projects I have been working on over the summer has been a new mental health support website intended to help constituents navigate what can often be something of a minefield when confronted with mental illness amongst a family member or close friend.

This is a subject I have long been involved with having led for the Opposition as Shadow Minister for Mental Health on the committee which brought about reforms of the Mental Health Act back in 2005. As Children’s Minister I saw first-hand the impact of social media and other modern-day pressures on our young people with as many as 1 in 10 school age children experiencing some form of mental illness. As Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Mindfulness, where no fewer than 240 MPs and Lords have now undertaken a mindfulness course in Parliament, the extension of mindfulness in schools is having a significant impact on helping deal with low level mental illness.

I also chair the national charity PIP UK which operates centres in 8 locations around England, including Brighton. We help the 1 in 6 women who suffer from some form of peri-natal mental illness which often impedes establishing a strong attachment with a new baby at a critical time when his or her brain is developing exponentially. One thing that has certainly changed over my time in Parliament is that mental illness has come out of the shadows and the stigma attached has greatly diminished. Quite rightly people now talk more openly about mental health and are prepared to seek help.

Governments have spoken about ‘parity of esteem’ between physical and mental health for years but in practice access to mental health services is much more of a postcode lottery although the Government has been making substantial investment in the NHS to achieve a genuine level playing field. I have been dealing with many surgery cases particularly from worried parents unable to secure assessments for their children let alone the subsequent treatment and support in a timely manner. For many it can be a challenging and worrying time as to what is available and what needs to be done.

Working with the Sussex Partnership Trust I am therefore this week launching a new website which you can find at www.Adurandworthingmentalhelp.org.uk  It is certainly not intended to offer clinical advice but instead gives helpful pointers about what the law says about mental illness, what the Government and NHS are doing, what NHS services are available locally and signposts to other organisations who can offer help and support as well. There are special sections to help young people, students and employees for example.

Crucially the site also asks for your feedback so if you find that advertised services simply are not available or the wait is unacceptably long, or hopefully the treatment you experienced was excellent, then I want to hear about it. I can then take it up directly with the management team at the Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and feedback what is being done to improve the services for you and others and highlight shortcomings. This is a genuinely interactive site to help constituents with getting the best out of the NHS so please use it and I am really looking forward to hearing back from you.