One in four people in the UK experience mental health problems each year and in 2014/15, there were over one and a half million outpatient appointments for adult mental health in NHS hospitals.
“‘I want to see the stigma stripped away so that no-one in this country feels unable to talk about what they’re going through or seek help.’” Prime Minister Theresa May
The number of detentions under the Mental Health Act 1983 for 2015/16 increased by 9 per cent to 63,622 compared to 58,399 detentions in 2014/15. According to the NHS confederation, people of black ethnicity were almost three times more likely to be detained than white patients and the discrimination against ethnic minority patients has been widely reported in the media.
On the 7th May during Theresa May’s election campaign, she promised to scrap the outdated Mental Health Act 1983, ‘…and introduce in its place a new law which finally confronts the discrimination and unnecessary detention that takes place too often.’ She also promised mental health support in every school in the country and to improve standards of care.
Although this is a positive pledge, one of the largest issues surrounding mental health is lack of funding. The NHS has stated in their Five Year Forward View that overall mental health funding is up £1.4 billion in real terms compared to 3 years ago. This sounds like great progress but according to Freedom of Information data (obtained by Pulse magazine), spending on mental health is to be reduced by £4.5m in five regions. Mental health patients face a postcode lottery when it comes to treatment with areas differing on their budget for mental health. For example, South Cheshire plan to spend only 5 per cent whereas Lewisham, in South London, plan to spend 16 per cent of its budget on mental health. The lack of funding has also been noticeable with the shortage of beds for mental health patients and NHS figures have shown that almost 6,000 patients have been sent long distance for treatment last year, which has risen by 40% in two years. This could potentially have dire consequences on patient care with patients being so far away from home, friends and family.
Since the election, there had not been any news on Prime Minister Theresa May’s promise to scrap the Mental Health Act 1983 until the recent Conservative Party conference. The Prime Minister announced that Professor Sir Simon Wessely has been asked to undertake an independent review of the Mental Health Act ‘…so that we can tackle the longstanding injustices of discrimination in our mental health system once and for all.’
Headway has also been made on Mrs May’s promise for mental health support in schools with a new training programme, backed by £200,000 in government funding, to help teachers understand and identify mental health issues in children. This is a positive step especially considering the increase of children suffering mental health issues and statistically 70% of children who experience mental health problems will not have appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age. Children’s mental health, especially girls’ mental health, has been in the media spotlight of late, with the recent awareness that social media and online bullying have contributed to many mental health issues amongst teenagers.
As well as addressing the outdated Mental Health Act, Theresa May has also addressed the stigma surrounding mental health in an article she wrote for the Huffington Post at the beginning of the year. In the article, she addresses her concerns over children’s mental health and she affirms, ‘I want to see the stigma stripped away so that no-one in this country feels unable to talk about what they’re going through or seek help.’ She plans on a step-change in the way we deal with mental health ensuring that mental health is addressed in hospitals, classrooms and communities.
Reducing stigma and the action being taken in our schools are steps in the right direction and Theresa May has stated she wants to ‘…focus on prevention as well as treatment, especially since so many adult mental health problems – which 1 in 4 of us will suffer from at any one time – begin in childhood.’ But what about those no longer in the school system and for whom prevention is not possible? For instance, suicide is a huge issue, especially suicide rates amongst young men. In 2016, 5,668 suicides were recorded, 75% of which were male. Suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged between 20-49 in England and Wales. This is most definitely linked to the stigma surrounding mental health and it is evident that a lot of men are reluctant to talk about their mental health. The Department of Health have issued a report specifying their progress on preventing suicide in England in which they detail reducing the risk of suicide in high risk groups such as young and middle-aged men and people in the care of mental health services, including inpatients. In the report, the government detail using sporting communities to target men such as the initiative ‘State of Mind Sport’ and providing a 7-day follow-up for people discharged from hospital regarding mental health services.
Additionally, we have seen a change in society regarding people in the public eye speaking about mental health. Politician Alastair Campbell, comedian Ruby Wax as well as popular grime artist Stormzy have all spoken out about their mental health, all in aid of reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness. Princes William and Harry have both spoken out about their own mental health this year regarding their mother’s death and both Princes and the Duchess of Cambridge have launched a mental health fund giving £2million to an online mental health scheme after the success of their ‘Heads Together’ campaign. The campaign has really helped increase awareness of mental health with 1.5 million more people talking about the subject between February and May this year.
Hopefully this new approach to mental health will help people to seek help as soon as they begin to notice symptoms which in effect should help their treatment and recovery. It is important to seek treatment quickly due to the time it takes to get an appointment. After a patient first approaches their GP regarding a mental health issue, the NHS waiting lists for treatment can be as long as 6 months or more. Perhaps the waiting time will improve with the employment of 10,000 more mental health staff which was also promised by Theresa May during her campaign, although this has been questioned after the release of the Conservative Party Manifesto which promised to recruit “up to” 10,000 mental health staff. The Huffington Post has suggested that this rewording means ‘a Conservative government could technically appoint just one more mental health professional over the next three years and still fulfil this pledge’.
During the Conservative Party conference, Mrs May did state that tackling the injustice and stigma associated with mental health was a particular priority and the government would be investing more in mental health than ever before. Hopefully, through this investment there will be noticeable improvements in care, but the NHS is going to need a lot more investment as a whole. For a long time, the NHS has been in crisis in every department as well as mental health services. It is therefore fundamental that alongside the NHS, there are charities such as Mind and The Samaritans that are invaluable with their help and support for anyone experiencing distress from mental health issues. These charities act as an excellent first port of call with detailed websites containing dedicated sections for anyone in need of urgent help and trained staff available to call.
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