Mental Health Policy: All Talk, No Action

So the treatment of mental health issues is not often given the attention or the funding it needs. With calls for the government and universities to do more for mental health, Theresa May has come out saying that the government is going to provide more education into mental health in schools in order remove the associated stigma. While this is an important, it is hardly a sufficient solution to the overcrowded and underfunded mental health services in both the NHS and universities.

Do not get me wrong, it is wonderful to start attempting to destigmatise mental health issues. However, awareness is already growing about the damaging effects of living with bad mental health, as is the number of people requiring help, and so Theresa May’s view that the way to solve mental health problems is by simply talking about it is just wrong. Since, apparently, mental health is to be treated differently to physical health, I will make a comparison. Say you have broken your leg. You eventually get the courage to go to the doctor, only to be told that the waiting list to see the right doctor is a couple of months long. You tell yourself that you can go about as usual despite your broken leg. You finally manage to see a doctor who tells you that you need a cast and crutches, the waiting list for this treatment is again months long. So, you wait… again… only this time it is harder to ignore the agony coming from your leg, and you take the medication the doctor gave you, which helps to mask it. In the meantime, carrying on as usual without the support you need has resulted in you getting worse. This situation could have been avoided if there was more funding. Now, this is the experience most people with mental health issues face. And so, if this standard of care in this situation is completely unacceptable, why is it acceptable for people with mental health conditions?

Yes, removing the stigma around mental health is crucial for both those needing help and those around them. However, by ignoring the fact that these services are failing users because they are severely underfunded, we are telling those living with these problems that they are not important enough to receive an adequate level of care. This is in the middle of a crisis in the NHS where are services, for issues both physical and mental, are under severe pressure. May even said that mental health should not be regarded “as a secondary issue to physical health.” But, by refusing to further fund mental health services, she is completely contradicting herself.

Many students have mental health conditions. With both university and NHS counselling in such a high demand, private health care is sometimes the only option when help is needed. However, this relies on students being able to find the money to pay for it, and this can add additional stress in an already demanding situation. It is the government’s job to at least try to provide adequate care and support for all medical needs, and it is failing to do this. It is all very well try to make it more acceptable to have a mental health issue, but what good does that do if there is no way of helping those who have them?

If you are living with a mental health condition, everyday life can be terrifying. I cannot count the number of times that I, or a friend, have been told miracle cures for conditions, such as sleep or yoga. These can help, but they don’t necessarily work for everyone and if they do they won’t always help completely. What does help is having a professional give you the support and work with you to discover what is right for you. With the current government’s history of policies, such as the bedroom tax and fit-to-work rules, exacerbating already existing conditions due to stress, we need real change. But we aren’t getting it.

Mental health has become a prize token for the government to bring out when they need to, serving only to gain popularity without any real meaning behind it. It is ridiculous to expect that we can get the necessary level of care when those who can implement change are not willing to take the subject seriously enough.

Therefore, the Prime Minister’s statement on mental health is beyond unacceptable and demonstrates the stigma which she claims to want to get rid of. May’s statement shows at best naivety, and at worst a disregard for the basic fact that we need money to fix the problem. Politicians must remember that their decisions impact real people, who have real problems which demand more respect than they are currently being given by those who are supposed to serve them.

[Rachel Gillett]

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