In cash-strapped times political leaders can't throw money at solving problems, writes David Pink, chief executive of the UK Council for Psychotherapy.
But they can do powerful things to transform the type of society we live in. Politicians should be leaders, not just resource allocators.
Poor mental health is surely one of the greatest scourges in the twenty first century. By 2030 we are told depression will affect more people than any other health problem. And mental health is still not talked about openly; stigma is still a major problem. For those that feel secure and ready, using a public platform to openly talk about our own struggles with mental ill health can create hope for many thousands of people who struggle and cannot speak out.
Jack Straw, an old school Labour man, should be praised for the dignified and candid descriptions of his struggles with depression in his recent autobiography. He was lucky enough to be able to get psychotherapy, something not available to many in this country.
Backbench MPs, including Kevan Jones, have acknowledged their personal struggles with mental health problems during a Parliamentary debate in June. That was Parliament at its best, connecting with the problems of real people and showing we do have politicians that are rooted in the real world.
Andy Burnham, who speaks on health policy at Labour conference today, has suggested there should be a cabinet-level minister for mental health. But that is just the start. Mental and emotional well-being is as essential as physical health, and the two are inseparable. If we fail to address depression and poor mental health then we cannot hope to succeed in addressing the nation's other great public health challenges – obesity, worklessness and addiction.
Mental health remains a stigma in social life. Praise to those political leaders who have had the courage to speak up about their own struggles. Now they need to go further and turn their personal stories into accelerated cultural and societal change.
David Pink is chief executive of the UK Council for Psychotherapy.