World Mental Health Day is a necessary and productive day. Across all platforms of social media you will undoubtedly see posts raising awareness and encouraging others to speak out. This is to be encouraged; we have a long way to go before mental ill health is destigmatised, and even further to go before it is fully understood.
Conversation is key and it always will be, but every year there is a dimension to this conversation that is distinctly absent, or at least less prevalent than it should be. Politics pervades everything, and it is staring us in the face from the middle of the epidemic of mental illness that the UK is currently suffering.
The current government is purposely blind to the crisis that this is. Conservative cuts to the NHS and other services have been catastrophic for the mental health of those who rely on these services and for those who work in them. It is horribly ironic that those who provide the help are quitting their jobs because their lack of resources have become impossibly stressful.
As well as direct cuts to services, Conservative policies mean unstable zero-hour contracts, a traumatic ‘rape clause’, and gruelling poverty. It seems obvious that living with the effects of these policies would make an individual far more likely to develop a stress related illness.
A singularly challenging set of circumstances is also being handed to students. In discussion of student finance, politicians often focus on lowering tuition fees. Though free education should certainly be a goal, most immediately detrimental to the mental wellbeing of students is the current system of maintenance grants and loans.
For many students, the most pressing stress is not the debt they will be saddled with when they leave university, but how they will get through each month whilst they are there.
There are students whose parents’ income or family situation sits them just on the threshold of the requirement for more than the minimum loan, meaning that their parents may not be able to support them through university, but they still don’t qualify for more than £3,930 a year. In many cities (Edinburgh included) this barely covers rent, never mind other living costs.
Academic pressure and some level of stress is to be expected at university, but no one should have to cope with the kind of stress that comes with choosing between heating or food.
This government perpetuates the prevalence of mental illness, then takes away the resources with which we can combat it. It is a cruel cycle that always hits the most vulnerable first, starting with children. Mental ill health does not just start when you turn 18 or leave home; CAMHS is overrun. Assessments are being made over the phone and children are being asked how much they self harm as a qualifier for the necessity of treatment.
We need to start talking about policy on days like today, because the mental health crisis the UK is facing is inherently political. Although Conservative MPs might write vague tweets about awareness and talking, this government continues to make decisions that are detrimental to the mental well-being of this country.
Image: Raul Mee via Flikr