I’m writing today about mental wellbeing and mental health, how they affect mental illness, and what can be done at local level to improve all of these, both myself and fellow Liberal Democrat campaigners and others in community politics.

Mental health and mental illness are two different but related concepts.

We all have mental health. Some of us have good mental health, others have better. Some have worse, and some have a diagnosable mental illness.

There’s no shame in that. We’re humans, and we sometimes become unwell. It doesn’t matter whether it’s epilepsy or anxiety. What really matters is how they are treated.

I am proud that Liberal Democrats in government introduced the concept “parity of esteem” between physical and mental health. This created – in law – the principle that mental illness should be treated as seriously as and equal with physical illness.

Unfortunately and unsurprisingly this is much easier to put down in a statute than it is to realise in practice. That being said I don’t think it’s impossible.

It doesn’t need to start in the GP’s surgery though, although clearly doctors are critical in helping people with mental ill-health. Mental health is influenced by many factors that arise from how we treat mental wellbeing.

Mental wellbeing is extremely important, potentially more important than healthcare.

I say that as a newly appointed public governor for Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, who provide specialist mental healthcare in our area, so I appreciate the importance medical care is to mental health.

Like our local GPs and health and social care professionals, the Trust does good work, but there’s always room for improvement and I hope to influence the direction of the Trust over the next few years in my voluntary role as a governor. I’d love to hear from any patients or carers of the Trust with their thoughts – feel free to contact me at ConsettLibDems@iCloud.com.

The reason I say wellbeing could be more important than medical care is that promoting positive wellbeing can help avoid people becoming mentally ill, and can help people living with mental illness recover or improve.

Liberal Democrats sought to introduce a “Minister for Wellbeing” in government, a member of the government dedicated to promoting mental wellbeing. Additionally, we wanted the government to look at every policy from a wellbeing perspective, so that the impact on peoples’ lives was examined when forming new policy, not just the impact on the government’s pursestrings.

Locally I think that is something that should also be brought in by Durham County Council. There should be a dedicated member of the ruling party solely responsible for wellbeing, making sure that any changes the Council seeks to make will contribute to the emotional and mental wellbeing of local people.

There are many areas that the local council has control over where changes could improve mental health. Having parks and green spaces that we can enjoy, in every area of the town not just in Consett. Social care for our elderly and disabled that is easily accessible and affordable. Good quality social housing, and private housing that is built to a good standard and in an environmentally sound way. Sports, leisure facilities and swimming pools that we can use!

Improvements in any or all of these areas won’t be enough to fix wellbeing, but they will be a start.

Above all else what we as local Lib Dems guarantee is that we will speak with our communities all year round to keep them updated, and ask their views and campaign for causes that are important to them.

That way we know the key issues and those that will improve the lives of local people, like demanding the best possible outcome for the future of Shotley Bridge Hospital – and also the Derwent Clinic.

For me mental health and mental illness are very important and personal, and whilst there might not be every tool or capability in local government to square the whole circle of mental wellbeing, I know that local Liberal Democrats and I will focus our efforts on the areas where can make a difference.

By Dominic Haney
Liberal Democrat campaigner for Consett, Moorside and The Grove.

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