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This blog post was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Why I became a member champion for mental health

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Guest author, Mental health, Viewpoint
Michael J Bevan, County Councillor, Sherborne Rural Division, Dorset County Council

The years 2001/02 were dark, bleak and dismal ones for me. My domestic life and career were both in turmoil, my marriage was breaking down, I had acute debt problems and was constantly bullied at work. They were months of anguish and daily life was like traveling through a long black tunnel.

I finally decided that life was futile and I took an overdose in an isolated country lane. What saved me was an impulsive mobile call to my best friend thanking him for his constant friendship. It was not a call in the hope he would dissuade me, it was simply a call of thanks for listening on all those occasions I could unburden.

He called out all the emergency services and traced the regular steps I travelled to work each day. Within an hour I was found; another half hour and I would have been dead.

Rehabilitation was a painful process and took some years. I did have some professional help but my own solitary efforts played a part, for by this time I had moved elsewhere and rebuilt my life.

In 2009, I was elected a county councilor and, with a full term ahead of me, I wanted to focus on what was really important, particularly in the field of social care.

It would have been so easy to shrug off the past and pretend it never happened. There were new opportunities facing me; why reflect on the past? But I considered it important to share my experiences of mental anguish with others, to use my new influence to seek a better understanding of mental illness and to fight the stigma and discrimination that come with it.

In 2010, I presented a paper to the Leader of Dorset County Council advocating the appointment of an elected member champion for mental health. I had his instant support, that of the Cabinet, and subsequently the full Council.

I affiliated to organisations that had an interest in mental health: the Dorset Mental Health Forum, Rethink Mental Illness and Time to Change. I organised a Dorset based mental health conference in October 2011, attended by some 140 delegates. I constantly monitor the outcomes of that conference as many delegates undertook responsibility for areas promoting mental health issues.

In conjunction with the Centre for Mental Health, I have written to all leaders of county councils in England and Wales advocating the appointment of a mental health champion in their respective authorities. The response is slow but encouraging.

This January, Dorset became the second county council in the country to sign the national Time to Change organisational pledge. It committed to supporting those with mental health problems and to fighting stigma and ignorance.

What remains? I strive to see mental health placed on the school curriculum. Mental health knows no age boundaries. To  this end, I am working with the national network for champions in an open letter to Mr Michael Gove MP.

Above all is the constant battle to educate our society about mental health suffering. I hope I can make a difference while I am able to do so.

Michael J Bevan, County Councillor, Sherborne Rural Division, Dorset County Council

For more information about the Mental Health Challenge for local authorities visit or contact

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  1. Comment by Kathryn Tyson posted on

    I am constantly inspired and abashed by the courage of people who have suffered so much, and then use that painful experience to help others. It's the thing I miss most from my time as Head of Mental health plicy.

  2. Comment by Carrie Morgan posted on

    Thank you for sharing your journey and your achievements, and I hope they will inspire all councils for follow suit.

  3. Comment by Richard Kelly posted on

    Thanks for sharing this Michael. Great to hear about how you've used your experiences to build something really inspiring.

  4. Comment by tom wye posted on

    An inspiring story

  5. Comment by Rachel Denyer posted on

    I thank you for taking the time to write such an honest and open 'viewpoint'. As mentioned by other comments - it is inspiring to see you use your life experiences in the way you have.

  6. Comment by shurleea posted on

    Mental health has always been a Cinderella service. I went into mental care as a 11 year old, I grew up in an asylum with 59 years of experience in the system, including as a nurse in both mental and general nursing. As an ageing 70 year old, I still self harm, I still self harm and still feel failed by the system

    Appointments with mental health service need to be made available in the same way as we make appointments with GP's. We do not get sick at six week intervals and when we are close to wanting to end our life, we have to ring and wait fro someone to ring us back, often several hours later! I have to ask 'Who really cares'?

    I have my care via a fantastic GP whose door is never closed, one time he had locked up to go home, but opened the surgery to give me his time!

    I still have my problems but am now a Honorary Fellow at out local uni and sue my experience to teach new mental health students nurses about mental health issues and the real meaning of care.

    Mental health wards are like prisons, locked doors, cooked chill slop fro meals, a life lived by the clock with every minute of your day planned out for you. there is more freedom in prisons.

    But for all the nasty treatments now gone, care was better in the 50's that it is now, staff had time for patients, wards were open, access to gardens not restricted and real food.

    Patients need real help, but all they get is just another bottle of pills, nobody looks at the root causes

    I go into schools and clubs to talks to kids about mental health issues.
    I want everyone to know we can and do recover, (with some limitations) but we can stand with our head held high alongside out fellow man as equals!