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Spend more on mental health, Welby urges Government

18 May 2020

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THE Archbishop of Canterbury has urged the Government to tackle mental illness caused or exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

In an interview with the BBC on Sunday, before the start of Mental Health Awareness Week today, Archbishop Welby urged the Government to consider mental well-being as part of its post-pandemic plans, and cautioned against a return to austerity.

“Borrowing costs are the lowest they’ve ever been in our entire history. Spending money on mental health will have a positive rate of return,” he said. “Going for austerity again would be the most terrible mistake.”

“We can do it now in a way we’ve never been able to,” he said. “We must be brave and courageous in setting our vision for what society will be.”

He continued: “Just because we’re in the middle of a crisis, it doesn’t mean that we can’t have a vision for a future where justice and righteousness are the key stones of our common life.

“So we fund mental health; we have a commission of inquiry into what we learn from this — not to blame, but to learn; we have a royal commission on how we look after social care.”

Archbishop Welby has spoken in recent years of his own struggle with depression (News, 13 October 2017).

Promoted by the Mental Health Foundation and running until Sunday, Mental Health Awareness Week is aimed at bringing mental-health issues to the fore, and encouraging people to promote mental well-being actively.

The theme for this year is “kindness”. The Foundation is urging people to share images on social media and start conversations about mental health and kindness; to think about performing small acts of kindness towards friends and strangers; and to communicate personal stories of mental-health struggles.

James Macintyre, a senior journalist Christian Aid, has written for the Church Times about his own struggles with suicidal feelings: “The brain is an amazing and mysterious miracle but as I discovered it can also be a source of terror. I still shudder with fright at the kind of thoughts I had when in hospital.” However, he described the support he received from friends, family and doctors as a sign that, “it is, after all, through people that God works.”

The new Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the Rt Revd Dr Martin Fair, has also voiced concern that social isolation could push already fragile people into an even greater sense of desperation.

“The mental-health crisis affects more people than will ever contract Covid-19, yet our response as a society continues to be patchy at best,” he said on Monday. “My fear is that it is only going to get worse as a result of this present crisis, and those who already feel isolated and vulnerable will be feeling it even more.”

He was speaking just before Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced that the lockdown in Scotland could be eased from 28 May, if progress was made in containing the pandemic.

In a forthcoming book, God and the Pandemic (SPCK), to be extracted this week in the Church Times, the Rt Revd Professor Tom Wright writes that, if the return to “normal life” after the pandemic “is approached purely pragmatically, as though the machinery of state were, well, machinery, rather than the wise working interrelationship of fully alive human beings, the result will be predictable. The weak will go to the wall again. They usually do.”

One indication of the level of concern about mental health during the pandemic is the number of sign-ups to online suicide-prevention training, offered by the charity the Zero Suicide Alliance, which was founded in 2017. The Alliance, formed by a coalition of mental-health charities and NHS trusts, said that just over half-a-million people had completed its training before the pandemic.

Almost the same number, 503,000, had signed up in the past three weeks alone, it said. The online training takes just 20 minutes.

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