Well, I can't say I've been much more surprised by a government announcement (any government) than I was last night.
According to the Telegraph, in the next few days Nick Clegg will announce that the coalition expect the NHS to "cure" one million mental health patients by the next election!! A Million!!! It's a miracle! Will they use some new, previously undiscovered Amazonian root? Has there been a medical breakthrough in hippo toenail clippings? After all, the coalition hope to include a wide range of mental health conditions, including "eating disorders, self harm, addictions, attention disorders and post natal depression"
And what princely sum have they committed to this revolution? How much do they propose to support this mass "cure" with? £400 Million!! That's £400 for everyone "cured". So just about the cost of, what, 6 one-to-one counselling sessions? A series of group therapy? I know I should be sitting with my head in my hands, but I can't help it! Their obvious delusions and incapability of living anywhere near planet earth leave me a little hysterical.
In fact, the sad thing is, the basis of these announcements is probably sound. They aim to put mental health issues on an even footing with physical health conditions, removing the stigma so often associated with the former. To show their intent, they will symbolically remove an archaic law that precludes an MP from sitting if he has spent more than 6 months in a mental institution. (No! No! So...many...puns...can't...stop...myself)
They also argue - almost certainly correctly - that mental health conditions need group therapy and one-to-one counselling rather than a lifetime abandoned on drugs such as Prozac.
They're right to focus on this, right to aim to remove people from medications when their core problems need addressing, right to de-stigmatise, but self harm is on that list!! Eating disorders!! During my last stay in hospital, there was a young girl with an eating disorder - she was an inpatient for all of the six weeks I was in and out myself and needed two staff to guard her permanently, 24 hours a day. She was a danger to herself and others and needed tube feeding. The cost of her treatment was obviously eye-watering - she was getting all the support, counselling and care she could have hoped for, but still she was skeletal, still she thought she was fat and still, she was not at all certain to live.
However noble the aims, I worry greatly that if a policy sounds too simplistic, then it was probably researched simplistically and is based on simplistic assumptions. That word "cure" too - what were they thinking? Surely very few people who've suffered depression or other mental health problems would consider themselves "cured"? They know that the dark cloud can fall at any time, that there will be good days and bad days, that depression or panic or hopelessness are just a random moment away. "Cure" is worrying, even a little sinister. I can only think they mean to put Soma in the water and be done with it. Even the Telegraph put the word cure in quotation marks, as if to disassociate from it
As a final thought, at a time when economists predict the worst financial conditions for a generation or two, when unemployment is set to rise, homes are predicted to be lost, belts will be tightened and inflation is soaring, is it not rather more likely that mental health issues will increase? Has anyone pointed out to the naively optimistic Mr Clegg that the economic term "Depression" is not entirely coincidental?