Danny Bowman is Student Ambassador for The Conservative Education Society and has recently graduated from The University of York.
The demand for mental health treatment is increasing across the Britain, with a recent study conducted by Rethink Mental Illness (2021) showing that rates of help-seeking are rising at an exponential rate. The research showed that the number of people requiring assistance and information about common mental health disorders such as anxiety, PTSD and OCD has increased by between 199% and 703%. The rising trend of mental distress across Britain must compel all of us to act including the minister in charge of mental health. However, far from action, the Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention said there was no crisis (Twitter – July 2021). She is wrong. There is a crisis, and the evidence is overwhelming. So why did the minister say there wasn’t one? Simple. Mrs. Dorries claimed the test for a mental health crisis is suicide and suicides were not on the rise. In other words, the minister is using the wrong metric. As Sanati (2009) notes, suicide is a complex issue that cannot be seen to reflect those with psychological issues. This has been expanded on by Brådvik (2018) who acknowledges that whilst the risk of suicide is higher amongst those with mental health disorders, the majority of this demographic do not take their own lives (5-8%). Therefore, you cannot base Government policy on a metric that tells only 5% of the story. A better metric would be the trends in help-seeking behaviour across the population as shown above. This demonstrates an entirely different narrative to the one based on suicide rates, indicating that more investment, collaboration and interventions are needed. This is likely to increase in the coming weeks and months to come. One of the triggers for this could be the reopening of our society after almost 15 months of abnormal living conditions. With vaccinations reducing the effects of COVID-19, now is the time to prepare for the mental health aftermath. Failure to act could see psychological issues engulf the minds of countless citizens and have an indiscriminative impact on our society and our economy. The historical underinvestment of mental health services before the pandemic created substantial barriers to care for thousands of individuals across Britain, these must now be scaled-up. The broadened nature of mental distress has emerged from the pandemic and will require better services and collaboration. Now is the time to modernise and offer a more holistic approach to prevent mental illness, promote help-seeking and treat acute cases with stealth.
The Mental Health Crisis of 2021 – Children and Young People
It has become evident that young people have been one of the most effected demographics. 70,000 students (1 in 16) tried to access mental health interventions from their higher education institutions at the height of lockdown (See Parliament Street, 2021). More shocking were the substantial disparities in waiting times for such interventions which were between 3 days and 8 weeks. Therefore, access to mental health interventions was based on geographical location, not need. The difficulties that young people have faced at universities inclusive of learning complex academic skills at a distance and meeting their classmates over Zoom has entrenched feelings of loneliness and isolation. These experiences have been reflected in classrooms up and down the country. Recent research by Mind found that 66% of young people had seen their mental health deteriorate throughout the pandemic, partnered with 1 in 4 feeling ‘unworthy’ of support. Whilst one will not endeavor to understand the complexities around ‘not feeling worthy’ of treatment, it is evident from this finding that more needs to be done to encourage help-seeking behavior and the scaling-up of children and adolescent mental healthcare
Based on the evidence, a clear trend continues to emerge around young people’s mental health. It is clear that a mental health crisis amongst young people is in our midst. One that requires a new holistic and modernised mental health framework. A holistic and collaborative approach is necessary to role back the tide on the suffering being experienced by young people in this country. This must be inclusive of expanded interventions beyond the confines of our health system, better training for our education workforce and joint-up working between mental health services and all welfare agencies. As Conservatives if we are serious about ‘building back better’ we must deliver this. Failure to act will only increase the individual, social and economic costs of mental health disorders.