Last week provided a rare opportunity for celebration for people with mental health needs, thanks to the historic House of Commons debate which saw many MPs speak courageously about their own experiences with mental health. Unfortunately, a report published on Monday will have brought many back to earth with a crash. The report from the London School of Economics confirmed what many already suspected from their own experiences: only a small minority of people with mental health problems (just 25%) actually receive any help.
The human cost of this lack of support is probably immeasurable, negatively affecting not just the 1 in 4 of our population with mental health needs but their colleagues, families, friends and communities. Nor is the cost limited to the suffering of the individuals affected: the report also argues that half of all the ill-health suffered by people of working age has a psychological root and is profoundly disabling. By failing to treat mental health properly, millions of pounds are wasted.
What makes all this so dispiriting is that something can be done about it. The report observes that talking therapies such as cognitive behaviour therapy relieve anxiety and depression in 40% of those treated. But despite Government funding to train more therapists, availability is patchy at best. The Guardian reports on “NHS commissioners not spending the money as intended, and services for children being cut in some areas.”
Anyone who doubts the scale of the problem should read the report, which says that a third of families have a member suffering a mental illness, Of the 6.1 million with treatable anxiety or depression in England, only 131,000, or 2.1%, entered talking therapy in the last quarter of 2011.
At United Response we support the conclusions the report reaches. Commissioners need to understand that treating people with mental illness saves money. Mental health must be treated with the same urgency and seriousness as physical health, because at the moment this is not happening.
The care services minister, Paul Burstow, has said: “The coalition government is investing £400m to make sure talking therapies are available to people of all ages who need them. This investment is already delivering remarkable results.” Yet we know of many areas in the country where mental health services are being cut due to economic pressures. This suggests that either the money Mr Burstow says is being invested is not reaching the right places, or it is not enough.
Politicians from all parties showed true leadership in discussing mental health last week. Now actions must follow words, and they need to do everything they can to support mental health services which reach people early enough to help them recover wherever possible. This isn’t just an investment in people with mental health needs, it’s an investment in our society as a whole.
Jaime Gill, head of press and public affairs