Is parity of esteem just an empty phrase?

In 2012 the government pledged to achieve parity of esteem between physical and mental health. Since then there have been working parties, reports and briefings, but also scandals like NHS England mandating a 20% greater cut for mental health, CAMHS services losing up to 40% of capacity in 4 years, and most recently and viscerally, people dying in scores while awaiting treatment for mental health problems.
So is parity just rhetoric, to keep a deeply disenfranchised group quiet till the next government? It doesn’t have to be…

To grasp the importance of parity, imagine if it was achieved. Not in the way we want, but by down-grading physical health services to the status of mental health in the NHS. People with the most serious problems, like heart disease, would have no guaranteed access times for treatment and hundreds would die unnecessarily. Young people presenting with sporting injuries would be made to feel they are a wasting staff time in A&E, while those suffering from leukaemia would be shunted across the country in search of a dwindling number of beds. Children with long term conditions like cystic fibrosis wouldn’t be able to get any treatment at all until they had complications, by which time outcomes would already be compromised. And health education and support in schools? We don’t talk about that sort of thing, thanks, we’ve got exams to pass.

There would be a national scandal, people marching through on the streets, resignations, the works. And yet we have all allowed people with mental health problems, some of our most vulnerable citizens, to be treated in this shoddy way. This has to stop. And the way to give this vague, arm-waving term ‘parity of esteem’ some guts, and enlist it for the fight, is to think not of equal esteem for ‘mental health’ as an abstract, but about equality of esteem for the people, mothers, fathers, workers, sons, daughters, friends, lovers, and colleagues, who suffer in this way.

So what now? Well, I’m on my way to the Labour party conference in Manchester, to the first of three events run jointly by the RCPCH, RCPSYCH and Young Minds, asking the three major parties to commit to a tangible action plan to achieve parity of esteem for people with mental health problems. We hope you can help by tweeting about our campaign #thinkagain, by visiting the young minds website and signing the petition calling for an end to CAMHS cuts, but above all by taking to colleagues, friends, and family about mental health, and making it a political issue.

Because it damn well ought to be.

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