Last week Parliament held a very emotive debate on mental health where MPs in both political parties came out and spoke about their own mental health issues. This week, a report from the Mental Health Policy Group revealed the shocking lack of availability of treatment.
And the government has now made it clear that it plans to repeal the archaic legislation that says Members of Parliament detained on grounds of mental illness may have to vacate their seat.
Mental health, so long the “cinderella service”, is, at last, moving up the political agenda.
According to the latest report, 75% of adults with mental health problems don’t get treatment. This is a shocking statistic. When it comes to the kind of intensive, face to face treatment that can be so effective, things get even bleaker. In Hillingdon, West London, 0.01% of patients suffering from depression or anxiety related illnesses receive treatment. That’s 17 out of 29,000. The state of children’s mental health provision is equally bad. 78% of children are rarely able to get access to the services that they need.
The report also reveals that NHS practitioners seem ill-informed as to the prevalence of mental health problems. GPs are the first point of contact for any illness, and with mental illness, they are the prime providers of medication. Yet many GPs don’t do any training in mental health and as a result, fail to recognise physical symptoms as having mental causes.
All this has got to change. I feel passionately about this. I have seen in my own work as a constituency MP the effect mental illness can have on people’s lives. Mental illness is closely linked to drug abuse and alcohol abuse. And there is a rise in depressive illness in a recession. Yet I have also seen how effective treatment can help pull people out of a cycle of despair. My mother worked as a mental health nurse until her retirement. So I know at first hand how dedicated many staff are, but also how under-resourced mental health services can be.
As shadow public health minister, I have visited a number of mental health services. For instance, last year I visited the Coborn Centre for Adolescent mental health in Newham. They do great work with vulnerable young people who are having difficulties. They provide person-to-person and family-centred treatment and tackle the most serious mental health issues. But their existence is threatened by the uncertainty and fragmentation caused by this government’s NHS re-organisation.
Labour’s Health Team is working on a review of policy which would mean whole person health care and bring our health service, social care and mental health services much closer together.
GPs as the frontline in mental health provision need to diagnose better and be more aware of mental health issues, while the NHS as a whole needs to target more of its resources towards the issue. This is especially so for vulnerable and socially excluded groups who can fall through the gaps with tragic consequences.
A concentrated effort on mental health would be cost-effective as well. The cost of more psychological treatments is low and the recovery rates are high. Whilst the benefit of having more people settled and working are obvious.
For too long mental health issues have been marginalised and underfunded. It is time for a second class status for mental health. It’s time for a New Deal on mental health.
This article first appeared on the Liberal Conspiracy website: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/06/20/its-time-for-a-new-deal-on-mental-health-issues/