Last Thursday, on ‘Time to Talk’ Day, Theresa May made a speech about how mental health is an important issue affecting millions, and how she plans to transform the way it is dealt with in the UK. This came after May’s earlier speech on the issue in January, where despite strong rhetoric about tackling stigma, she pledged a minimal amount of funding to counteract the problem – only £15m, or £23,000 per constituency. Without adequate extra funding, little will change for the 25% of young people who are turned away due to a lack of resources.
In the past year, mental health has gone from being considered a fringe issue to one quickly rising on the political agenda, and this is largely due to media attention and discussions opening up. When May speaks of the importance of destroying stigma, she’s completely right. It is clearly a big part of the mental health crisis. But you can’t adequately address a crisis just through breaking stigma – and arguably, it is a lot harder for a society to address stigma at all without the prominence of mental health professionals stimulating discussions. To focus on stigma and ‘conversations changing lives’ as a way of detracting from the necessity of cash is a cynical move. Especially when we take into account that while mental illness affects a broad spectrum of people, poorer people are more vulnerable to mental illness due to socioeconomic stress.
And as well as NHS funding to tackle these issues having been slashed, restrictions on benefits under the Tories. Cuts to disability, single-parent and housing benefits have all exacerbated the crisis. 1 in 4 children lives in poverty, a figure that is expected to increase by 50% by 2020. But conversations are nice.
In reality, May’s rhetoric about improving mental health is entirely at odds with the country’s trajectory under the Tories, especially post-Brexit. It is hypocritical and shortsighted to pledge mental health reform without assessing the causes of this crisis, which are, in large part, linked to socioeconomic pressures made worse under Tory rule, ranging from benefits cuts to zero hours contracts. It’s important to remember that cuts to public services are not purely economic. There is a strong ideological component at work here. Cuts to public services like the NHS are more ideological than economic; they are less about balancing the budget and more about pushing nationalised services to a breaking point, and then presenting them as inefficient and in need of privatisation in order to run properly.
May’s mental health initiatives will do little to make a dent in the issue, and she is well aware of that. As well as failing to pledge a substantial level of funding, May failed to mention the way the crisis has manifested itself among students. This is a huge oversight, considering students are one of the worst impacted groups, something that is only being worsened by rising tuition fees and the commodification of higher education in general, not to mention an increasingly hostile job market outside the EU. Demand for university counselling services has increased by 50 percent since 2012, and is simply not being matched by an increase in universities’ commitment to tackling the problem.
At the end of the day, this is all symptomatic of Tory Britain. To suddenly expect a government whose ideology and policies have exacerbated the causes of mental illness to now cure it is, to say the least, unrealistic.
Image Credit: Number 10