This guest post is by Sarah Cope, who has proposed a motion to Green Party Conference updating the party’s policy on Mental Health. Party members can read all of the submitted motions here.

The policy motion has come out of a year’s research and discussion about the issue of mental health and the Green Party’s stance on this important issue. In any one year, it is said that 1 in 4 of us will suffer from some sort of mental health problem, and with cuts to mental health services, as well as high levels of unemployment and stress, this is an issue that we need to address.

The Green Party’s current policy on this area is outdated, in terms of both the content and the language in which it is expressed, and so last year we formed a working group to discuss what direction our new policy should take. The group consisted of mental health professionals, past and present service users, and many more people with a knowledge and a passion to improve our policy.

From the start we agreed to make sure this was wholly evidence-based policy, and so we have put nothing in here for which there is no positive clinical evidence. We also consulted with mental health charities, most notably Mind and the Mental Health Foundation, who helped us throughout the policy-writing process.

We decided to concentrate on three broad areas: service provision, lessening stigma about mental health problems, and children and young people. Although you will see that this is a lengthy policy motion, we need to make it clear that this is just the beginning in terms of a reassessment of our party’s approach to these issues. There are some notable omissions, not least of all dementia care. We decided, certainly in the case of dementia care, that these areas required separate consideration at a later date. The motion submitted is an inroad, if you will, into this complex and crucial area.

Isolation is a huge factor in causing mental distress, and we believe that the society the Green Party would help mould would be one of increased community cohesion, improved social justice and secure employment. When mental health issues do arise, it is important that people have swift access to a range of evidence-based treatments and therapies. Battling stigma, through working alongside charities who are already working on the issue, as well as encouraging a more open public dialogue about mental health, would encourage people to come forward for help rather than suffering in silence.

The policy motion recognises that some groups are more likely to have contact with mental health services than others; BME individuals and LGBTIQ people, for example. We would make more clearly the link between deprivation and exclusion and mental health problems, because addressing those issues is key to preventing mental illness.

The policy motion also addresses the plight of carers, the marginalisation of refugees, asylum seekers and vulnerable migrants, as well as those in the criminal justice system.

We also focus on the fact that GPs act as ‘gate-keepers’ to mental health services, and yet they often admit to feeling less that expert when it comes to the complex area of mental health. With the advent of GP-led commissioning, the need for GPs to be more well- informed on these issues is even more pressing. We therefore have advocate having a specialist mental health nurse attached to each practice, in order to facilitate better understanding of patients presenting with mental health needs.

Early intervention is another area we have focused on, with a recommendation that schools focus on well-being, for example in teaching about healthy relationships, and thatschools should employ suitably trained counsellors. This of course is fully in line with the Green Party’s ‘prevention not cure’ approach to health in general.

This is a very detailed policy motion, and the above are just a few of the areas we have touched upon, though, as mentioned above, we see this as just the start of a process of developing a new mental health policy for the Green Party.