‘Actions speak louder than words.’ A phrase that all members of parliament should live by. It is a statement that has been floating around a lot recently, especially in relation to recent government promises regarding the mental health crisis in the UK. Maybe they didn’t get the memo.
Put your money where your mouth is.
Theresa May has pledged to tackle mental health stigma and transform the way mental health is dealt with in schools, the workplace and the community. The initiative was welcomed with open arms in general, and has sparked a long overdue nationwide conversation about mental health.
The Prime Minister suggested that fighting against stigma is more important than resources. I fail to understand how she concluded on this logic. Obviously, tackling stigma is extremely important, especially as it can give sufferers the courage to speak out about their mental health problems and seek help. But if there aren’t enough mental health services readily available to provide help and support because of lack of funds, then surely the results will be the same.
It wasn’t long ago that former Prime Minister David Cameron ‘promised’ the same thing. However it was his government that slashed the NHS funding for mental health services by 8.5%, at the same time referrals to community mental health teams rose by 20%. For once, the Tories should put their money where their mouths are and actually make a difference. Actions speak louder than words.
Theresa May made a bold statement of intent to try and convince the nation that the mental health crisis would be a genuine government priority. However, there is still a great concern that this is yet another faux governmental policy created simply to tell the public what we want to hear. Goodwill and fancy speeches are all well and good, as long as they are followed by a concrete plan, evidence of resources and cold hard cash.
Mental VS Physical Health
Unfortunately, words are not enough to tackle the mental health crisis and the battle against stigma cannot be used as a placebo effect for the services needed. For every person who suffers with cancer in the UK, £178 is spent on research; for dementia – £110. How much do you think is spent per person with a mental health problem? £8. That’s right, only £8p/p is spent on research. I was truly shocked by this figure.
Suicide is the number 1 killer of men under the age of 45 in the UK. If you replace ‘suicide’ with a physical illness, there would be an outrage, and I guarantee the money the government insists we don’t have will suddenly materialise out of thin air. If we were funding research and treatment for mental health like we do for physical diseases, things would look very different.
It feels as if we are light years away from an equal ground between mental and physical health. If someone broke their leg, an ambulance would be there in no time. However, despite the fact 1 in 4 people will experience mental illness in their lifetime, sufferers are often faced with excruciating waiting times or are forced to travel a considerable distance for treatment. I, for one, have experienced months and months of waiting for a professional to help me. I cannot begin to explain how angry this makes me. It even makes my inner Danny Dyer come out effing and blinding. I felt like I had been given up on and forgotten about before I had received the highly anticipated letter confirming my first CBT session. Seriously, you would have thought it was an acceptance letter from Hogwarts or something.
On a serious note though, the waiting lists are disgusting and do not show any sign of improvement. Maybe if the members of parliament gave a damn about the nations’ mental health as much as they do about the health of their bank accounts, progress might be made.
This brings me on to child mental health. Over half of mental illnesses become evident in the years under the age of 18 – with 1 in 10 children suffering from a diagnosable mental health condition. Sufficient treatment can stop a child’s condition deteriorating to a dangerous level, and can provide a life-changing effect on long-term recovery and fulfilment in adulthood.
Unfortunately, for too many people, help is not available when they need it. The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services are a lifeline for so many young people. I honestly don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t for my time in CBT there. However, nearly a quarter of young people who are referred to CAMHS are rejected. Due to excessive cuts to mental health funding, the rules of ‘qualifying’ per say, have got tougher. The young boy with OCD is turned away until his obsessional thoughts consume more hours of his day. The anorexic teenager is denied essential care until she becomes desperately thin. This is awful and completely unjustified. Lack of early intervention due to under funding can cause mental illness to worsen because they were not recognised and treated early enough, which can be life-threatening.
I was on a waiting list for adult psychology for almost a year when I took an overdose. Coincidentally, it wasn’t long after that I was finally invited to my first psychotherapy session with my new therapist. Did it take something so extreme to make my cry for help loud enough to receive the help I needed after an endless wait, or was it just a coincidence? After reading personal stories and learning the shocking statistics, I’m not so sure.
Between 2010 and 2015, funding for CAMHS was slashed by £50m, despite a massively increasing demand. Astonishingly, only 70p out of every £100 the NHS spends goes towards children’s mental health services. This is a horrifically low number and I was appalled when I was told. Is it any wonder 1 in 4 young people who are referred to a professional actually gets the help they need? This worsening situation compromises recovery and future life satisfaction.
According to a survey carried out by The Guardian, 7 out of 10 child psychiatrists deem the NHS mental health care for under 18’s as inadequate. So why is CAMHS only receiving a measly 0.7% of NHS spending and 6.4% of mental health funding? Health secretary Jeremy Hunt identified CAMHS as the weakest area of the NHS provision and pledged to oversee major improvements in diagnosis and treatment. He stated that the lack of early intervention led to too many tragedies and services need to intervene earlier. Next he will be telling us we need oxygen to breathe and water to survive. So why have his party overseen the starvation and neglect of children’s mental health services?
It is not the hard-working mental health workers that are failing young people, but it is the fault of the government who continue to cut budgets and close departments. It is not uncommon for youngsters to be locked in a cell for the night like criminals due to lack of available beds, or to be offered treatment miles and miles away from their homes or in adult wards.
Actions speak louder than words
Statistically, 3 children in each classroom will suffer from a diagnosable mental illness, with 1 in 4 under 18’s experiencing suicidal thoughts. A childhood is every persons starting line. A platform that will refine the rest of your life. So why is this not being taken seriously? The Prime Minister pledged first aid training for mental health in schools, which is great. But what about when children leave school? CAMHS won’t just be there waiting at the school gates. There also remains the unstable bridge at the age of 18 when young people make the transition from CAMHS to adult services; starting the waiting game all over again.
The lack of urgency to make a positive change to the world of mental health treatment in this country terrifies me. Children’s mental health cannot continue to be undermined or neglected. The government is failing our next generation, as well as the 1 in 4 adults who suffer from a mental illness. Change NEEDS to happen, not just talked about. After all, actions speak louder than words.
Thank you to The Guardian for providing me with statistics.