hat is it about the mental health debate that makes me go all Malcolm Tucker, effing and blinding at the gap between what politicians say about it and the reality on the ground? And why do I want everyone else to get as angry as I am about it? Because every time there is pressure on health spending, mental illness slips down the priority queue.
We are frankly light years away from the parity between mental and physical healthcare that is set out – in law – in the NHS constitution. In the last week, I have spoken to a mother at her wits’ end because her daughter is being treated in Scotland when she lives 80 miles south of the border; a young man I persuaded to get help for his anxiety and depression who has been given some pills and told he might get cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in six months; a student who has dropped out of education after two failed suicide attempts, one of which followed a long wait in a crowded room waiting to see an overstretched university psychiatrist.
I recently got a letter from someone who said that my urging people to be open in a radio interview had led him to seek help for what he worried was a drink problem. But when he got to his GP he was told the alcohol support service had been cut and was instead given a list of local Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. It makes you wonder what is the point of fighting to change attitudes if the services are not there to help people who, despite all the stigma and taboo, make that first step to be open about a mental health problem.
There are of course many people who do get good treatment. But my worry is that the battle against stigma is seen as a substitute for the services we need, rather than an accompanying policy goal, and a genuine government priority.
So for all Theresa May’s fine words, and David Cameron’s before her, they have presided over 8% cuts in real spending on mental health, the loss of more than 6,000 mental health nurses and a fall to a lower per-capita number of psychiatric beds than France, Germany or the OECD average.
According to findings from mental health research charity MQ, more than four out of 10 people believe that mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression are now an inevitable part of life. Even with more prevalent physical illnesses we don’t have the same expectation, because we just don’t think about mental health in the same way. That has consequences for care, and the pressures politicians feel to provide it.
Full story in The Guardian, 18 January 2017