I have been running therapeutic creative writing workshops for people with depression and anxiety for about six years now. I enjoy the work, particularly the diversity of people that I come to meet and the journeys we take together. However, my experience over this time has brought me to question more and more the funding of mental health services.
Mental health provision has been called the "Cinderella" services, left behind in terms of money and commitment because of the stigma attached to mental ill-health. More recently the government pledged £173 million to improve access to psychological therapies on the NHS in England. This funding was announced in 2007, to be rolled out during the three years until 2010. Now, though, there appears to be a question mark over whether this money is "ring-fenced" or whether, as the public purse gets squeezed, it can be syphoned off to other services.
Often governments behave as though there isn't a table of priorities when it comes to spending, but, of course, there must be since budgets cannot be finite. And what I see happening is that paying for expensive drugs or treatments to prolong people's physical health is far more popular than committing resources to improving people's mental health.
I believe that "mental illness" are still seen as dirty words, something not quite acceptable in our society. Add to that the tendency to suggest that those with mental health issues should really just be able to "pull themselves together" - even though those with physical illnesses are not expected to heal themselves - and the undermining media image of those who suffer from psychological problems, and no wonder mental health services are so poorly supported.
I am glad when what I offer - two hours of creative writing a week - can help people to face their lives with greater purpose. However, I am deeply saddened when I see that it is the only substitute for services which ought to be - but are not - there.