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442 Mental Health Experts Call for an End to Austerity

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Austerity cuts and “neoliberal thinking” among policymakers are having a “profoundly disturbing” effect on Britons’ psychological and emotional well-being, say hundreds of counselors, psychotherapists and academics in a letter to The Guardian.

The letter begins, “The profoundly disturbing psychological and quality-of-life implications of the coalition government’s cuts and policies have yet to be mentioned in the … campaign [for the May 7 general elections in the U.K.].” It continues, in full:

Counsellors and psychotherapists in the public and private sectors find themselves at the coalface in responding to the effects of austerity politics on the emotional state of the nation. The past five years have seen a radical shift in the kinds of issues generating distress in our clients: increasing inequality and outright poverty, families forced to move against their wishes, and, perhaps most important, benefits claimants (including disabled and ill people) and those seeking work being subjected to a quite new, intimidatory kind of disciplinary regime.

Where this includes the linkage of social security benefits to the receipt of “state therapy”, as announced in the chancellor’s latest budget, this is totally unacceptable. “Get to work therapy” is manifestly not therapy at all. With the ominous news that Maximus (the US company replacing Atos to do work capability assessments) will also be managing the new national Fit for Work programme, it is time for the field’s key professional organisations to wake up to these malign developments, and unequivocally denounce such so-called “therapy” as damaging and professionally unethical.

More generally, the wider reality of a society thrown completely off balance by the emotional toxicity of neoliberal thinking is affecting Britain in profound ways, the distressing effects of which are often most visible in the therapist’s consulting room. This letter sounds the starting-bell for a broadly based campaign of organisations and professionals against the damage that neoliberalism is doing to the nation’s mental health. For now, we call on all the parties in this election – and particularly Labour – to make it clear that they will urgently review such anti-therapeutic practices, and appropriately refashion their much-trumpeted commitment to mental health if and when they enter government.

The Guardian reported:

The letter was being organised before the Conservative party manifesto was published earlier this week. This said that those with long-term but treatable conditions, including drug or alcohol addiction and obesity, might lose benefits if they refused recommended treatments.

The response from main political parties was muted, each stressing only their commitment to improving mental health rather than addressing the call for professionals to wake up to “malign developments” in social policy.

The letter’s supporters included psychotherapist and writer Susie Orbach. She called “beyond shocking” the Conservative manifesto proposal.

“It undermines the fundamental principles of one’s right to physical and mental care – that you have to be able to consent and that the people you go to have to be highly trained and have your best interests and aren’t meeting targets.”

Read more here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

Alexander Reed Kelly
Former Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

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