Mental Health

All of us were shocked by the murder in West Chiltington of Sue Goswell by her husband Roger and his subsequent suicide just before Christmas.

It is reported that Mr Goswell, 66, had been released from a local mental hospital days earlier.  His family said they felt that their parents "were both let down by the system."  What a terrible thing to happen to them just before Christmas.

It would not be right for me to comment on the individual case, not least because the family have not asked me to raise the issue, and these matters will be examined in the relevant inquiries.

But this is an awful reminder that mental illness is present in our communities, if frequently invisible.  Mental health is often said to be the "Cinderella" service in the NHS, receiving less public attention than GP and acute services.

Last year the Sussex Partnership NHS Trust treated about 47,000 adults with mental health problems and 7,000 children or adolescents.  This isn't a small problem, as I learnt when I visited the Meadowfield Mental Health Unit in Worthing just over a year ago.

Mental illness in England has been estimated to cost over £77 billion a year - equivalent to the entire national education budget.

Last year, when I held the Opposition policing brief, I also became aware of the problem of mentally ill people being held, quite inappropriately, in police cells because these are frequently the only places available for them.

And on New Year's Day, the Government revealed a huge rise in the number of suicides in prison.  There are thousands of inmates who should be held and treated in dedicated secure mental units, not jails.

President Bill Clinton said that "mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all."  Perhaps we should talk about these issues more, and not just when tragedies unfold.