Council with senior member who said people use mental illness ‘as an excuse’ appoints two new mental health champions

Babergh councillors met at Endeavour House in Ipswich. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Babergh councillors met at Endeavour House in Ipswich. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

Two mental health champions are to be appointed by a council after one of its senior members controversially said people use mental illness “as an excuse”.

Luke Cresswell. Picture: ARCHANT

Luke Cresswell. Picture: ARCHANT - Credit: Archant

The decision comes after Babergh District Council cabinet member Margaret Maybury recently made comments at a workshop on mental health, sparking an outburst from opposition Labour councillors and members of Suffolk Parent Carers Network.

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Mrs Maybury denied she was unsympathetic, saying she felt she was misquoted and adding: “I absolutely understand the impact of poor mental health.”

Members of the Labour group presented a motion on Tuesday, October 23 asking that Babergh District Council nominates a mental health champion to liaise between the council and mental health services.

Luke Cresswell, Labour councillor for Sudbury South, who put forward the motion, said: “The council needs to understand mental health better, as some of the Tory members have made some incredibly inappropriate and old fashioned comments.

“Mental health should be a priority across all the local authority’s areas of responsibility and all councillors, whether members of the cabinet or not, can play a positive role in championing mental health on an individual and strategic basis.”

The motion was passed unanimously - but councillor John Ward, leader of the council, proposed that Babergh appoint not one but two members as mental health champions.

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One will work with staff internally and another will lead external activities to support mental health.

One in four people will experience a mental health problem in any given year, and Mr Cresswell believes that “as a community we must be understanding and supportive, not rude and dismissive”.

Mr Ward added: “Mental health is incredibly important - it has a huge impact on the whole of the district and it is our duty to support our community.

“Although we are not directly involved with health or social care provision, as a council we can promote good mental well-being by putting sufficient housing in place and the provision of leisure and recreational facilities.

“We also have a duty to ensure that our staff are all healthy, but it’s also important to address the situation in the families and communities in our district.

“We have made significant improvements over the past two years - we jointly hosted an event this year to mark mental health awareness week, and on mental health awareness day we had specially trained colleagues talking to our staff about their own mental health and wellbeing.”

Speaking after the decision, Mr Cresswell said: “This Labour proposal managed to gain cross party support and is important as it sets a very clear agenda when it comes to mental health.

“Often local authorities and in particular councillors can be behind the times.

“This successful motion is only a foundation and whoever becomes the champion will need to extend this further.

“I’m really glad we now have a firm base of values to work from when it comes to mental health. After recent negative comments, we can draw a line and take a positive approach.”

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