Mental Health: Is the UK government failing us? – Labour Article
Trigger Warning: references to suicide and self-harm.
In February, the death of former Love Island host, Caroline Flack, came as a massive shock to the British public. It was, and still is, a stark reminder of another pandemic in Britain; mental health. After years of campaigns, mental illness was finally beginning to be given the attention it deserved. However, the UK government has failed to actually act on this tragedy.
I can’t help but feel frustrated by the lack of consistency. Caroline Flack’s death didn’t reveal a new issue to the British public, it popularised it as the ‘crisis of the moment’. Once enough time had passed, it faded away.
Over the course of 2019/20, more than 2.8 million people were in contact with mental health services in the UK. Roughly 30% are under 18, with 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 10 children suffering from mental health conditions at any one time. Something, anything, needs to be done about this.
We also need to tackle the stigma and shame that is paired with mental illness. The indifference in the face of mental illness is perhaps the most damaging aspect of this problem. All too often, people with mental health problems are unable to be seen by medical professionals, are too ashamed to, or are simply dismissed. Because of this, 75% of people with mental health issues receive no treatment. Not only is this shameful but it is entirely unsustainable.
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to this problem. This issue may be nuanced, but it needs to be addressed now. It extends beyond our health care and intersects with our politics and our economy. It is complicated further by issues of racism, homophobia, sexism, and classism. The extent of apathy surrounding the issue of mental health is astounding. If immigrants and refugees were even half as intrusive, I don’t doubt for a second that the government, the media, and sectors of the public would have still tackled it head-on.
Firstly, we need to combat mental illness in schools. 50% of mental health problems are established before the age of 14 and this increases to 75% by the age of 24. Targeting young people would not only work toward prevention but also would also break the current stigma surrounding mental illness. All whilst supporting our children.
Likewise, the NHS’ approach needs to be reinvented. We are trying to fix an enormous problem with a broken system. Waiting lists are unacceptably long, treatment can be impersonal, and the entire process of accessing support is completely ineffective. This simply can’t continue any longer.
Factors such as bullying, discrimination, poverty, violence, migration, and trauma need to be considered more if we are to tackle this issue effectively. These factors all exacerbate mental illnesses and impact a substantial proportion of the population.
This is particularly true for minority groups who need to be prioritised and given equal opportunities. These groups experience these factors on a greater scale which increases their risk of mental illness. LGBTIQ+ people are 2 to 3 times more likely to have a mental health problem than heterosexual people. Similarly, 23% of Black British people will suffer from a mental illness in any given week compared to 17% of White British people.
Also, Black adults are the least likely to receive treatment despite being the most likely to be diagnosed with a severe mental health condition. This discrimination is unacceptable and must be eradicated.
Treatment needs to reflect these greater challenges. Cultural stigma must be directly addressed. A greater understanding of minority experiences is essential to providing health care which everyone deserves.
Nine years ago, the UK government pledged more funding to improve access to treatment and services and the prioritisation of mental health conditions within the NHS. We are still waiting to see any form of delivery on these promises.
I mentioned earlier that 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 10 children had a diagnosable mental health condition. This was back in 2011, and absolutely nothing has changed since then. When the government confidently proclaims “No Health Without Mental Health”, the lack of improvement over the course of nearly a decade is unjustifiable and immoral.
75% of patients with a mental illness still receive no treatment. This statistic is truly mind-boggling and disgusting. How is this acceptable?
More funding works. A spending increase of 4% between 2015/16 and 2017/18, was initially followed by a promising decrease from 10.4 to 10.1 suicides per 100,000. Additionally, the government’s £12.5 million in the funding of Time To Change’s campaign to fight the stigma surrounding mental health has improved social attitudes significantly.
However, 2018 experienced an increase to 11.2 suicides in 100,000, a rate not seen since 2002. This sharp increase should alarm the government and push them to take this issue more seriously. This is particularly relevant now due to Covid-19 which will do considerable damage to the country’s mental health. 2018 was not just an anomaly and so we can’t expect a steady decrease anytime soon. The urgency of this problem cannot be understated. There will be fatal consequences if this trend continues.
Whether mental health conditions lead to suicide or not, it is the government’s responsibility to step up and provide for their citizens to ensure a better quality of life. This help has failed to materialise and highlights a case of gross negligence on their part.
Overall, nowhere near enough has been done to tackle this issue. The commitments made have consistently gone unfulfilled by the government at a time when real action is desperately needed. In the age of the pandemic, this is particularly salient.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Zoë Olsen-Groome
Point of Information
Less is more; aspects of society have failed mental health too – A Conservative Response
To start, I like that Zoë covers so much ground in her article. However, I think she tries to do too much. Therefore, she loses grip on the core issues that surround mental health.
Isolating just the death of Caroline Flack is erroneous. Tackling ‘another pandemic’ in the form of the mental health crisis is certainly the government’s responsibility. At the same time, the death of Caroline Flack says more about another area of the issue. Her death has much more to do with the pressures of being in the public eye, which was compounded by her assault trial.
Her death didn’t reveal a new issue, Zoë is right on that. However, I think this side of the story is one that needs telling if we are to meaningfully change the stigma attached to mental illness. Zoë only glosses over the effect that bullying, peer pressure and social norms can have on the mental health of both the young and old. I would have either not mentioned these issues or taken more care to analyse them.
This brings me on to the power and also responsibility I believe media platforms have with regards to mental health. I remember when the Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why, showed their viewers the reality of teenage suicides. Hannah Baker, one of the original protagonists, attempts suicide. I think this is one avenue that could be better used to draw attention to mental health issues. Viewers will obviously be warned about the content, but I do think watching episodes with a parent, friends or another close family member, could ail certain issues.
Like I said in my article on student mental health, resources need to be available and highlighted. Otherwise, there is only so much charities or indeed government can do. Exploring the potential this has to address certain aspects of mental health is something I would advocate.
I would like to end by saying there is no one right answer given the ranging dynamics within mental health issues and discussions. What I have set out is one area of many that I would target. Social media, as well as streaming services and broadcasters, are well-positioned to tackle important social issues. Campaigns backed by the government would make them all the more powerful.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Joshua Tyrrell
What about BAME communities? – A Liberal Response
Well said Zoë! The UK’s mental health crisis has been brewing for a long time. Now with the implications of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s here to stay. Zoë’s argument that nowhere near enough has been done to tackle this issue is both compelling and convincing.
One thing that stands out to me in Zoë’s article is her point about cultural stigma. She argues that a greater understanding of minority experiences is essential to providing the healthcare which everyone deserves. I totally agree.
The mental health of BAME communities is hugely important. It is often understated as there is a considerable lack of understanding around minority mental health issues. People from these communities regularly face individual and societal challenges that can affect not only their overall mental health but also their access to support. So, I thought I would highlight three ways the minority experience differs from that of the majority and why this means we must tailor our mental health services to reflect the Britain we live in today!
Firstly, BAME communities experience racism on a day-to-day basis, ranging from casual slights to verbal or physical aggression. Research suggests that experiencing racism can be detrimental to an individual’s mental health and that those exposed to racism are more likely to experience problems such as psychosis and depression.
Secondly, BAME communities are often faced with disadvantages in society. They are more likely to experience poverty, have poorer educational outcomes, higher unemployment and have contact with the criminal justice system. These are all risk factors for the development of mental health problems.
Thirdly, different communities understand and talk about mental health in different ways. In some BAME communities, mental health problems are rarely spoken about and can be seen in a negative light. This can discourage people from talking about their mental health and may be a barrier to engagement with mental health services.
To account for these issues and the countless others I haven’t been able to mention, our mental health services must be specifically tailored to Britain’s cultural diversity. If not, as Zoë says, there will be fatal consequences.
Written by Junior Liberal Writer, Libby Gilbert