The Day I Spoke To The Prime Minister About Mental Health
On World Mental Health Day, Activists Imogen and Jacob were invited to a reception at 10 Downing Street, to meet the Prime Minister and discuss mental health.
My first experience of Downing Street was getting stuck between the security gates.
The guard didn’t notice that I couldn’t get through the other side, so I was there for a bit while he processed other people. After my release, the YoungMinds delegation (which happened to be just two of us) headed towards that famous black door for the obligatory photo opportunity. Just seconds after this photo was taken, a staff member opened it and calmly asked us to take our photos at the end of the event. So far, so awkward.
After this inauspicious beginning, we were the first arrivals at the reception, having been escorted through a crowd of very important mental health figures to the front of the line. Three other young people and a facilitator joined us as we waited for the Prime Minister in one of the smaller state rooms. Every time the door opened we jumped a little. That happened a lot - a remarkable amount of people are involved in coordinating everything that happens in Downing Street.
When Theresa May made an appearance, we spoke to her about what needed to change in the system. We told her about the importance of people who ‘get it’. It doesn’t matter how good your pathways are; it doesn’t matter what treatments you offer; none of it matters if the human beings working within the system can’t relate to the people they’re treating.
“For me, meeting with the Prime Minister was very important both as someone who’s been failed several times by mental health services and as a young Queer person. I wanted to get the message across to her of how damaging it is when people in the system don’t ask you about your care, or how it feels to be being accused of making up your problems. It can feel like nothing you say makes a difference. I made sure to make it clear that the system needs more people who ‘get it’. If you receive care from someone who understands, it makes the care more effective. I’m glad the PM listened to what I and everyone had to say, and I hope she takes what we said forward when making decisions about services in the future.”
Later that day, the Prime Minister’s speech was the time for her to put forward her plans and talk about what she wanted. This conversation was about letting our voices be heard. I told her about the part friends can play in supporting someone with a mental health problem. Others mentioned battling stigma at school, in their peer groups and sometimes within their own families.
The most important feature of this conversation was that it happened. Too often, the voices of young people are shut out of discussions that directly concern us. An organisation can have all the data it wants; without our stories and lived experiences, it means nothing. Every statistic surrounding this mental health crisis has a person behind it. But if we keep having these conversations, and decision makers keep hearing the stories behind the numbers, our mental health system will serve the people it’s supposed to - us.