Despite active discussion on mental health and politicians pledging to make it a priority, little appears to have changed. Around 75 per cent of those suffering from mental health issues will not receive help or treatment, due to a fear of coming forward and a lack of resources for them to access. Less than one per cent of each local authority’s public health budget is spent on mental health on average, and in 2016 13 local authorities spent nothing at all, despite the public health act of 2013.
David Cameron’s pledge in February to focus on mental health care – after revealing how it was so underfunded – failed to bring about any substantial change. The government’s expenditure on mental health stood at 0.9 per cent of their total expenditure on public health – a decrease from 2013-14 when it totalled 1.4 per cent.
The recurring trend of empty promises on mental health is echoed most clearly in Theresa May’s latest speech, which undermines and dismisses the severity of the problem. Whilst she agreed to ‘transform’ support for young people at risk of mental health she focused far more on quelling the stigma of mental health than providing additional funding. She failed, therefore, to realise that the current lack of investment in mental health is a direct result of that stigma.
Whilst May promises to safegaurd a £1bn investment in mental health services, there is a suggestion that this money is not being actively engaged with at all levels or that this is a strong enough investment. Over 90 per cent of NHS providers were not confident that the £1bn investment would be sufficient to meet the challenges faced by mental health services. Currently one in four people suffer from a mental health issue and this costs the UK between £70bn to £100bn.
Countless studies have proven that getting proper help and support is vital and therefore investment could prevent people developing mental health problems in the first instance and would doubtless help to combat their recurrence.
May should be promising to hire back all the staff who were the first to be cut, such as pastoral care staff and counsellors. Her focus on schools and her pledge to transform the way we deal with mental illness at every stage of a person’s life including classrooms, work, and in communities can be seen as positive. Especially following a recent study in which young people who have contact with mental health services during their teenage years are less likely to be impacted by severe symptoms of mental health later on in life. However, following the lack of action in the wake of David Cameron and Nick Clegg and others, coupled with May’s lack of commitment to financial support, it is difficult to know whether or not these plans will come to fruition.
The most important part of this plan is the detail that is so often ignored in speeches. For instance, there needs to be a clear connection between schools and to NHS child and adolescent mental health services for those teenagers who need additional help. Therapy can be one of the most crucial ways of dealing with mental disorders and business and schools can only do so much. May’s speech sounds so positive with her idea of using the government as a ‘force for good’ to ‘change the way we view mental illness’. But the pressure the NHS and government schools are under currently leaves little hope for real measures to be implemented.
Image: Russel Watkins/ Department for Internationl Development