Meldreth father speaks of success of international mental health conference held in memory of son

Hans van de Ven, Steve Mallen, Heidi Allen MP

Hans van de Ven, Steve Mallen, Heidi Allen MP - Credit: Archant

“He’s supposed to be on his second term here, and look at what I’m doing.” With those poignant words Steve Mallen spelled out the tragedy which had led him, through grief and a determination to make a difference, to a conference session in Cambridge on Friday.

Rosie Tressler from Student Minds, mental health and suicide prevention campaigner Jonny Benjamin, a

Rosie Tressler from Student Minds, mental health and suicide prevention campaigner Jonny Benjamin, and Hannah Knight from Pixel Learning. - Credit: Archant

His son Edward, a talented pianist, had won a place to study at one of the world’s top universities before being gripped by a depression which ended in his tragic death on a railway track near his Meldreth home in February last year.

The MindEd Conference, which pulled together mental health campaigners, ministers and academics at Cambridge University’s St Catharine’s College, was single-handedly organised by Steve with the primary target of preventing similar tragedies through dialogue and reform.

Trustee Hans van de Ven, Royston Mental Health Support Group founder Robbie Lane, county councillor

Trustee Hans van de Ven, Royston Mental Health Support Group founder Robbie Lane, county councillor Susan van de Ven - Credit: Archant

In his opening statement, Steve, who set up trust in the wake of his son’s death, said: “Our mental health literacy is appalling.

“A year ago I knew nothing about this subject. If I knew 10 per cent of what I know now, my son would be alive.

Edward Mallen

Edward Mallen - Credit: Archant

“I was mental health illiterate. I have this incredible sense of guilt that I couldn’t save my own son.”

There were words from former care minister Norman Lamb, who set up a taskforce in the coalition government to review child and adolescent mental health services.

MindEd Trust logo

MindEd Trust logo - Credit: Archant

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He called on the government to invest more in prevention services, as help ‘couldn’t come out of thin air.’

In November, data obtained by mental health charity Mind found that just one per cent of the health budget is spent on mental health.

An inspiring group of young campaigners then took to the stage to react to current policy and draw on their own experiences in the mental health system.

The panel featured film producer and campaigner Jonny Benjamin, Francesca Reed of the British Youth Council’s youth select committee, Rosie Tressler of Student Minds and chair Natasha Devon, who is a mental health champion for the Department of Education.

The rest of the conference saw care minister Alistair Burt MP outlining the government’s plans to tackle the severe under funding of mental health care before a grilling from the audience, and representatives schools and charities from the area discussing the range of services on offer in their respective departments.

Speaking after the conference, Steve said: “I thought it was an excellent event, it was very successful and very well attended. There was a lot of strong support. It was more than just a conference, there were very senior representatives from the department of education. I think the most successful aspect of the whole conference was raising awareness of the whole issue. I have had hundreds of emails from all over the country, and so many people have been tweeting about it.

“It was also good to hear what services are on offer from the county council, as many people are unaware of what resources are already available.

This all helps to destroy the stigma and increase understanding. There’s also dialogue going on about including mental health services in Ofsted assessments.”

The conference was testament to the promise Steve made at Edward’s funeral that he would push for mental health reform on his son’s behalf.

In the words of Norman Lamb: “Steve doesn’t allow passion to stop him being rational.”

Speaking after the conference, County Councillor Susan van de Ven said: “Steve Mallen has done a phenomenal job in furthering the cause of genuine parity of esteem for mental health. Hearing from young people about ways they have navigated and helped others find a way of dealing with mental ill health was something everyone could take home to think about.

“Over the past year, new health and wellbeing initiatives have sprung up in our community and it’s this kind of example of practical, daily support that will make a difference. The Mind service at the Melbourn Hub, and the Allyance school counselling service offered by Melbourn Village College and its catchment primary schools are two outstanding examples.”