I’ve been looking at statistics from the Mental Health Foundation and Young Minds and I wonder why this government seems so reluctant to get behind mental health, in a real and concrete way.
I wonder why politicians only ever seem to pay it lip service, offering a sound bite here, a top-up of funding there.
Of course, these top-ups are completely arbitrary when set against the losses accrued by years and years of cuts. And money allocated for mental health services is often secretly siphoned off.
The government’s brutal programme of cuts has seen an increased demand for mental health services. The number of people seeking help has increased by 500,000 a year to 1.7 million since austerity began in 2010.
And yet more than half of mental health trusts are rated as requiring improvement, and are themselves battling against a climate of cuts. GP mental health budgets are being slashed and patients are waiting months for treatment, with many forced to attend A&E to get help.
It all seems so shortsighted when you take a look at some of the key statistics:
- Mixed anxiety and depression causes around a fifth of days lost from work in Britain
- One in six adults has a common mental disorder
- There were 6,188 suicides in 2015 of which 75% were male
- Suicide is the most common cause of death in men aged 20-49 in England and Wales
- Up to 85% of older people receive no help from the NHS for mental health problems
- The cost of dementia in the UK is £26.3 billion
- One in five long term unemployed young people feel they have nothing to live for
- One in four have been prescribed antidepressants
- Nearly 300,000 young people in the UK have an anxiety disorder
- One in four young people in the UK experience suicidal thoughts
- Anxiety and depression among teenagers has increased 70% in 25 years
- Major depression is thought to be the second leading disability worldwide
Services continue to be slashed to the bone and people are left without effective treatment for a myriad of conditions, despite the figures pointing to a very real need.
What frightens me most is the predicament facing our young people, many of whom seem to be existing without hope, and without help. What sort of economic future has this country got if it won’t invest in the wellbeing of its future workers?
How are we supposed to compete on a world stage post-Brexit when so many of our young people are unemployed, unmotivated and unwell?
Theresa May announced a recent raft of measures including:
- a suicide prevention strategy
- improved links between schools and mental health services
- a review of children and adolescent mental health services
- a pledge to break stigma in the workplace
- £15 million for community clinics
She said in a recent speech to the Charity Commission:
For too long mental illness has been something of a hidden injustice in our country, shrouded in a completely unacceptable stigma and dangerously disregarded as a secondary issue to physical health. Yet left unaddressed, it destroys lives, it separates people from each other and deepens the divisions within our society.
But her focus seems to be less on funding and more about training, prevention and tackling stigma.
She ignores the very obvious fact that services are crumbling in the face of wave after wave of cuts. The evidence that mental health needs investment is right before her eyes.
I’d like to see this government show a real financial commitment to tackling mental health problems, and fast. We need the Conservative government to recognise that it is failing hundreds upon thousands of people – the old, the young, the unemployed.
Until there is an end to austerity, an end to the cuts which do nothing more than hammer the vulnerable and cause deepening problems, all we can do is lobby, and lobby hard.
We can also look after each other.
We must do that above all else.