More than bricks & mortar….?


I am 35 living in Somerset, working voluntarily within my community. I have two children and one has special needs. I suffer with mental health but do not see that as a barrier to achieve.

How long will it be before the government put more time, money and resources into mental health?

We have, as a nation, been horrified and extremely upset by the apparent suicide of a young mother and her new born baby. I do not know the story and not sure I could cope with hearing it to be honest, but there were obviously alarm bells ringing. The speed at which her details were published shows that enough concern was shown of the potential for this to happen. So why were they not kept safe?

I have been through the mental health system on many levels and although the staff on the front line are excellent in their roles, they have not been given enough by those elected to care for us to protect those that need it. Mental illness is NOT a dirty word nor contagious, so why do so many people shy away from talking about it? I am very open about my afflictions. The only way forward is to remove the barriers that have been present for decades and restrict those that do suffer.

I ask… What has any government really done to improve mental health care?
Charities and some very well known people are very vocal about conditions and campaigning for better services and provisions. But what of those that are asking for our vote? Having been in the system for close to 10 years, I have seen many changes…

• Loss of beds on inpatient wards
• Less support services in the community
• Services tailored more to addiction than mental health
• Massive increase in those suffering milder forms of mental illness, that have gone on to develop significant problems, due to lack of attention from relevant medical professionals
• Children being sent hundreds of miles from their families, just to receive the care required
• Mental health crimes increasing
• Police being used as ‘baby sitters’ for those that are deemed too ill to be in society at that time.
• Anti depressants being handed out more freely, with no follow up counselling or support

I have not seen any real significant increase in companies changing their view on employing those with mental health problems. Nor have I seen any huge Government plans to ease or aid the situation. However, I have seen a change in our communities.

People now have the confidence to stand with their head held high and declare they have mental health issues. Communities are rallying around to support each other, with self made peer support groups. Face Book forums popping up, with people from all over the country coming together to support through the dark times.

Yarlington Housing Group have employed a ‘Well Being Coordinator’ with the aim of reaching, signposting and assisting those with mental health issues to become who they could be, with the right support and direction. But again, I question why this is the job of housing associations?
Ken Comber, Head of Communities for Yarlington Housing Group, is very passionate about community and has a special interest in mental health. His view is one shared by many across the company, “Significant numbers of residents in social housing experience mental health issues. Cutbacks in government funding mean that it is harder and harder for those people to receive the services they require. Social landlords like Yarlington are trying to bridge the gap by employing a Wellbeing Co-Ordinator to help support vulnerable residents. To work in partnership with organisations who provide professional support and also local community groups like the Watch project who provide invaluable services to those who need peer support. ”

WATCH was set up by a remarkable lady, Julie Matthews, who was shocked when her local day services were stopped. After suffering herself, she felt that those with mental health needed somewhere to go, free of judgement to get support and a helping hand. She was so passionate about it that chains and a protest were involved until she got the vital space she needed to help others. It is humbling to visit and see the change of the patrons after just one visit.

I have visited many housing associations and read many tweets from all over the UK and am amazed at what the housing sector is now assisting its residents with. Does this distract them from the business that originally is all bricks and mortar? Or is it right that the way of housing associations should be the entire welfare of their residents?

Whatever the ethical debate over whether housing associations should be picking up the shortfall from the government, I applaud them for taking the action. A generation being supported by their landlords now have the potential to improve their lives and that of their children. This in turn redevelops a whole nation of upcoming citizens.

I have been one of those residents, too afraid to leave my house. Thinking the world had forgotten about me and I had no worth. Yarlington Housing Group gave that back to me. They have empowered and supported me to continue a life that I had long left behind after severe mental illness.
Like many of the stories we are hearing in the media today, I have been held in a prison cell awaiting mental health involvement. I cannot begin to explain the feeling of despair and fear, trapped in a tiny cell being constantly watched by a man in uniform. Being looked at like an alien specimen that has just landed. And at that point wishing my mother ship would come and beam me up.

I still suffer badly with mental health and cannot work but with Yarlington holding my hand, they enable me to attend meetings and recently take up a lead role on the tenant panel. As much as I thank them for giving me back a life and showing my children that disability does not restrict me, I am one of thousands, and I was a lucky one.

How many residents are sat with their curtains closed afraid of the world? Never venturing out or engaging with another human being? Where day and night merge to become a living nightmare? Does someone like this live next door to you? Do you cross the road to avoid someone that looks a little odd or acts slightly strange?

Mental Health is a fact of life and over a quarter of us suffers from this at some point in our lives. So why the taboo? Talk to us and you will find that not only are we ‘normal’ but actually quite interesting. We also have a sense of humour which is very important when you suffer any disability. In fact I was only talking to my voices the other day and they were in stitches…