Yet another report of inadequate mental health provision surfaced last week on the BBC news, this time with concerns about a failure in Scotland to prevent children being a ‘serious risk’, although it is likely next week the county exposed will be elsewhere in England, so frequent does this type of news dominate the headlines. The same message is relevant everywhere: mental health provision, particularly, but not exclusively, for children, is increasingly worrying in scale and scope. Endless examples of people being turned away, being denied immediate, life-saving care or being kept on unending waiting-lists. However, in public discourse the fault is often attributed to the NHS, a body of 1.2 million employees working consistently to provide the best possible care their funding will allow them, motivated, largely, by a personal commitment to making people’s lives better. Even if this is not true for all their employees, those working in adolescent mental health are probably amongst the most sympathetic, given the rigorous and demanding nature of the job.
Rather than the fault of the NHS, decades of inadequate government funding have nurtured a problem that is only getting worse (particularly following the cuts for funding Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, CAMHS, which amounted to £50m between 2010 and 2015). Together with persistent refusal to enforce legislation that may genuinely help see a reduction in cases of mental health issues, be that clamping down on advertising (Sadiq Khan has demonstrated an eagerness to ban body-shaming ads from London transport) or incorporating into the curriculum more creative and therefore less academically stressful examinations, the government cannot keep hiding behind financial constrains as an excuse for ignoring a problem that will not only be solved by money.
What is, perhaps, most surprising is the apparently blinkered perspective of the government to considerable journalistic and public activism, notably by the UK Youth Parliament who, again, have chosen ‘Mental Health’ as one of their topics of interest for the next parliamentary year. Given that they are the democratically elected body for young people, the very same young people who are suffering (one in ten children aged between five and sixteen suffer with a diagnosable mental health problem), perhaps it is about time the government listened to their suggestions, rather than ignoring the problem. Although The Guardian suggested in January that it was cash that mental health services need most of all they also acknowledged that eroding the stigma surrounding psychological health conditions would be a more positive step than claims of injustice that are not then followed up.
The government, granted, might not themselves be able to dissolve the societal prejudices that mental health has forever been associated with (historical example). However, given the complexities that contribute to poor mental health (including the increasingly rigorous and exam-based education system), the government has much more power than they might care to understand. For instance, in Germany (European leaders in treatment for mental health, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit), psychiatric treatment differs hugely to that in England, with the government prescribing specific policies and targets and, a statistic difficult to ignore, they have consistently spent more than ten percent of their gross domestic product on health case unlike England’s spending of less than seven percent (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2002). In mental health, then, as in so many other aspects of social policy, perhaps the UK government ought to look to Germany as a model for funding.
It seems that the government does have a responsibility, even a duty, to increase tangible funding for mental health services. But this problem, given its complexity, requires also a government-sponsored attempt to reduce the prejudice and stigma that still surrounds mental health. Young people who are suffering should not be deprived of the services and care they need because of inadequate investment in the NHS, but neither should they feel frightened to discuss a problem just because it isn’t part of everyday political and social discourse.