Mental Health – The silent crisis. A discussion with Jeannette Harding


Jeannette Harding has been a long term user of mental health services and a mental health professional. Our Mental Health Trust also created a unique award to acknowledge her work as a campaigner and educator.

Joining the ‘Our Cambridge’ cafe discussion series in June, Jeannette spoke about her own recent experience of a crisis which would normally have required a hospital admission but no beds were available.

Horizontal view of woman drinking hot tea

She was visited by the Home Visiting Team instead but was only able to feel safe by going to stay with her mother.

She also pointed out that community mental health services for people with severe mental illness such as regular contact with a CPN and a psychiatrist had been withdrawn and many people had been discharged completely from any help whatsoever.

The ‘Recovery’ agenda which used words like ‘resilience’, ‘empowerment’, ‘recovery’ and which could be relevant to some mental health problems was being used inappropriately as a means to discharge people with serious mental health problems (i.e. for economic rather than health reasons).

Benefits system ‘punitive’

The benefit system was ‘punitive’ and a major cause for worry and distress linked to an increased number of suicides.

Jeannette pointed out that a person needs to ‘feel well’ to comprehend the Work Capability Assessment. Recent changes to Personal Independence Payments make it much harder for people with mental health problems to get the mobility component.

If not in a support group for Employment Support Allowance people can be sanctioned. (DWP figures show that 6 out of 10 ESA claimants who are sanctioned have a mental illness or learning difficulty). People with mental health problems have a high representation in Food Banks.

Funding for employment support by voluntary agencies has been withdrawn. (A report commissioned in 2004 said that people with mental illness were the group most excluded from employment). Jeannette explained that she had eventually decided to become self employed. She thought that the best solution for employment which had worked well was having a support worker involved who could recognise problems arising and help prevent a crisis situation.

Services working together

‘Working Together’ a meeting previously held at ARU enabled statutory and voluntary organisations to exchange information and work together. Jeannette explained that now mental health staff did not always know what services were available. The Sanctuary, a joint project by CMHT and Mind is now available from 6pm until 1.00 am for ‘time out’, referral by emergency and mental health services. The aim is to relieve A & E departments.

Jeannette pointed out the good work of Lifecraft, an independent voluntary agency offering social and therapeutic activities, including counselling, advocacy and partnership with other agencies. ‘Lifeline’, a Lifecraft helpline project has a close working relationship with the Samaritans and is open in the evenings every day of the year. Jeannette suggested Lifecraft was the most trusted agency from a ‘user’s’ perspective.

Charities silenced

She also thought that charities had been successfully silenced (e.g. charities cannot be ‘political’ particularly during the year before a general election- therefore valid information from charities is not available to enhance debates), and feared losing funding which could also lead to self censorship. Jeannette praised the work of the churches in Cambridge, particularly St Paul’s, and the Chaplain at Fulbourn.

Life craft have produced a comprehensive handbook of mental health services in Cambridge available online.


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