The first speaker, Denise McKenna from mental health service user/survivor campaign Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), argued powerfully that the Tory government is brutally denying and minimizing the extent of the mental distress experienced by service users to justify cuts to services and benefits. She argued that, though users were rightly critical of psychiatric services in the past, recent years have seen a profound shift away from positive elements such as counselling that aimed to improve service users’ quality of life towards short-term ‘work-cure’ therapies to force claimants off welfare and cut services.
Following this Paul Atkinson from radical therapists network the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy (ACP) argued for a paradigm shift in mental health policy and practice. He emphasised the social and political causes of distress such as traumatic experiences, exploitative workplaces and a discriminatory society. Consequently, he argued, we need social change to address these causes and genuine service user control to ensure holistic support for survivors.
Denise and Paul’s talks stimulated a lively discussion about how to achieve these aims amongst a diverse audience including activists from Disabled People Against Cuts, Free Psychotherapy Network, Social Work Action Network (SWAN), MHRN and ACP, as well as Labour conference delegates, including councillors and trade unionists.
One of the central aims of the meeting was to discuss how to influence Labour Party policy on mental health. Several speakers argued that though reversing mental health cuts is crucial Labour needs to go beyond a ‘more of the same’ biomedical approach. There was resolve to campaign for radical change in Labour’s approach to mental health with the aim of a policy that promotes more holistic and user-led forms of support and ways of understanding mental distress. Proposals for taking this forward included taking the proposals from this meeting into wider debates at the Labour conference but also beyond that into Labour branches, trade unions and Momentum groups.
Others noted the importance of organizing against mental health service and welfare cuts and continuing to strengthen our alliances of resistance. Umbrella networks such as the Mental Health Activist Alliance that bring together survivors, disabled people, mental health workers, trade unionists and community campaigners have already played an important role by organising a number of actions and lobbies against psychocompulsion. Attendees resolved to continue to build and broaden these emerging networks and campaigning activities to achieve the radical changes that are urgently needed in mental health and welfare policy and practice.
For more information about the meeting and campaigners’ demands: https://freepsychotherapynetwork.com/lpfringe/
Social Work Action Network (SWAN)