At the tail of mental health awareness week, and in the wake of another general election; what plans are in place to address the widening gaps in youth mental health treatment around the UK?
In the past few years youth suffering with mental health conditions has risen to record levels; while access to treatment and funding for facilities has been cut and overstretched.
After three years in a row
Of cuts being made to mental health services, six charities came together in 2015; ahead of our last general election, to submit a manifesto. It proposed drastic action needed to be taken to address the increasing lack of help for mental health sufferers.
It outlined five steps that needed to be taken by the government in order to increase access to treatment, ensure better awareness in the community, and to provide a long term plan to better the quality of life for those living with a mental health condition. Their other aim was to investigate what measure may also be taken to prevent the development of mental health problems and lower the amount of people that may go on to deal with them in later life.
These goals were to be in place by 2020, giving five years for ample strides forward to be made in attaining these targets.
However given the events of 2016/2017 that have seen an unstable, confused and more than distracted government scramble with the directions they wish to head in and another potential shift in power emerging in the next two weeks; just how much work has been put into meeting this manifesto so far?
Will mental health continue to be a pressing issue for whomever may be elected in June?
Why mental health treatment is a growing concern
As stated in the 2015 manifesto huge proportions of people with mental health problems receive no treatment at all, even fewer get the right treatment.
They estimate that by 2030 there will be approximately two million more adults in the UK with health problems than there are today.
The charities that outlined the key issues surrounding the mental health sector currently, stated that they wished first of all for more awareness and support in schools.
Better education and support could help to protect children living with a mental health condition, and may help them avoid falling behind in school, and paying for this later down the line.
This should include placing mental health on the curriculum, skilling up teachers and school nurses in child development and ensuring that local child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) offer timely, engaging mental health support for children who need it.
They also wanted better access to physical support for sufferers of mental health, demonstrating the benefit of sports and exercise as a form of treatment.
They proposed these kinds of treatment plans in the long term would be more cost effective and beneficial to patients. It would aid to reduce the demands on local GPs and would offer forms of alternative treatment as opposed to only medication.
Instead of simply masking the problem, better resources could help patients to understand, and learn how to cope with their illness.
While medication can truly help some people, it can also hinder and monopolise the lives of some. Not all wish to be dependant on tablets to make it through the day, and perhaps while medication can be helpful, many would say it is not a sufficient singular form of treatment.
Anyone who may be using medication to help with their symptoms they suffer, also should be in another form of long term treatment plan so they can also deal with and receive support for their struggles.
Better quality of life
In the manifesto, the charities wished also for the lives of people with mental health problems to be improved. Again introducing programmes in the community, and introducing mental health as a focus of school curriculum, we could aid awareness and support in the community.
Stigma and discrimination affect 9 out of 10 people with mental health problems, restricting people’s working lives, curtailing their social lives and relationships and leading to social isolation. At its worst, the stigma people face can cause them to give up on life.
Mental illness is not a physical ailment that can be seen by others, often it is hard to discern or understand something we cannot see or feel. It is this fear and lack of understanding that can lead an individual to feeling rejected, alone and confused.
If there was wider spread information and acceptance in society regarding this subject, then mental health conditions would not be met with as much scepticism or exclusion.
Though most importantly, what was mentioned was the issue of access people have to mental health services. The manifesto clearly outlines the importance of raising awareness of how people can access help to the services they need.
They stated the issues people have in not understanding where to go, and lack of training concerning mental health, means often when seeking help, patients may not be coming into contact with the right kind of care that is needed.
Police services are most frequently stepping in to deal with cases, following cuts made in the past few years, that have left less and less helplines open that possess the ability to make call outs.
However this situation is far from ideal, and is damaging to the patients needs and recovery. In the Guardian article linked above, this quote was printed from the Chief Inspector interviewed.
“The police are considered to be the service of last resort. In some areas, particularly where people with mental health problems need urgent help, the police are increasingly being used as the service of first resort. This is wrong.”
Those arriving on scene are unprepared to deal with the circumstances and individuals they are meeting. The police are not arriving to arrest someone, they are coming to meet an individual who is in need of help.
Without the right kind of help at hand, these individuals are disappearing into the system, perhaps then to be let out of it without ever having spoken to or accessing the kind of medical help they need.
This cycle of out and in, brief reviews and immediate release back into the situation that had lead the individual to the problem in the first place, shows how the individuals are being ignored and let down by the health systems and government that should be aiding them.
In fortunate cases, it means friends, families and those in close proximity of the individuals are being left to step in to care for their loved ones. Yet no matter how much these individuals may be cared for, families and friends are not medical experts and may not be able to provide the treatment required.
Loved ones too are being let down, by being to unable to turn to anyone else for the answers, or support during what may be extremely difficult circumstances for all involved.
999….a mental health emergency service please?
Perhaps and necessary suggestion, is the introduction of an emergency service dedicated primarily to dealing with mental health call outs. A service that can ensure cuurect response and treatment from the first dealings, with trained individuals who can recommend the best course of action from the get go.
Currently even if an individual is admitted to hospital, they may find themselves being treated for an incorrect diagnosis, or being released prematurely and without adequate help, due to not being recognised as in need of emergency medical help.
Not to mention anyone who may manage to be admitted to a facility specialising in mental health, may find themselves being taken half way across the country from their friends, family and home, due to a lack of bed availability. These kinds of actions can be detrimental to the recovery process of one dealing with mental health issues. Not to mention they can heighten and already stressful situation and make it even more traumatic for the patient.
What will the future hold?
It is difficult to evaluate how much work has been done to meet these goals in the past two years and with the interruption of the unplanned election, it is even harder to tell what the future may hold, and if this will remain a focus of whoever party may be voted in.
These are some of the questions Birmingham University is setting out to explore in its new policy commission.
All that can be known at the moment is there is plenty more than needs to be done in addressing the concerns laid out by these charities two years ago, and perhaps we can hope Birmingham University’s investigation can help to keep this at the forefront of the government in the upcoming years.