Mental health issues are being taken more seriously than they were one hundred years ago, of that there is no doubt. As a society we are no longer ignoring the issue and are far more conscious of our individual mental health, as well as our physical well-being.
This does not mean that we should sit back: we still have a long way to go. For many people mental health remains a taboo subject. A taboo subject which, if ignored, has a proven record of dire consequences. Although this ‘taboo attitude’ is slowly turning around, we in the UK still have a long way to go, despite the fact that mental health problems remain one of the most widespread global health issues.
There is no place for complacency. We need to move forwards in our societal awareness of mental health, and not settle for stagnation. Part of this moving forwards is changing how we approach the issues of mental health in a political sphere. “Mental health” seems to be lumped together into one homogenous block (like trying to argue that breaking a leg and having a brain tumor require the same approach in terms of care and rehabilitation). We need to curb this ‘one size fits all’ attitude to mental health but also to end the often quoted ‘postcode lottery’ which patients experience when it comes to health care, in which the quality of healthcare received is dependent on location rather than need.
Part of disassembling this homogenous block is for society to look beyond the idea that mental health issues should (or even could) be solved solely through medication. Whilst medication serves a vital role of course, if you look only at medication as a potential “cure”, then you are trying to find a solution too late in the process.
Everyone is potentially vulnerable to mental health issues at some point in their life. This was recognised decades ago within the medical sector, but the world of politics has never caught up. It is time for government to properly recognise that for a mentally and emotionally healthy nation we need to appropriately fund not only the NHS and medical research programmes but also grass roots sport, music and art, therapy centres, outreach programmes and community support groups working with all ages from very young to the elderly.
Funding all of these public services is critical and it is especially important to highlight that overall we only spend £8 per person on research for someone who suffers from mental health issues (compared to cancer, where we spend £178). As one of the largest economies in the world we should not be waiting to follow in others’ footsteps but rather creating the path ourselves. We need to find other avenues beyond automatic medication; there is no one single treatment route when it comes to mental health and it is time to recognise that.
Not only does the government need to invest in a diverse range of schemes which can help elevate mental health programmes but it needs to immediately address the ‘postcode lottery’ that is found within the healthcare system. Although there have been attempts to address this divide, they have to date largely failed. This is a problem which can actually be solved by throwing money at the issue, but regional councils need to be given more control over their finances in order to tailor their care provision to suit the unique issues facing their districts.
Not only do we need to look at funding other means of support and changing our perception of mental health, but we also need to address government complacency in the arena of mental health and the discussions surrounding it. This could become more and more of a danger as issues such as Brexit currently dominate the news stories, meaning that politicians have now created a situation where there is no room to discuss other matters. This means other matters, such as mental health, get lost.
Just take a look at current regulations which are in force dating from the 1983 Mental Health Act. Although this is under review (and we have a 2007 Mental Health Act amending its 1983 predecessor) the regulations and ideas within in the Act are outdated and no longer fit for purpose. Politics is failing to keep pace with the scientific world. Changing mental health policy in the UK should be one of our major priorities as it is something which can affect us all.
Much of the battle can be won through a sustained and well-planned campaign of information, education and awareness targeted across all demographic groups in society. It’s time for the government to start pushing a wider multi-media campaign on mental health as has been done with smoking, drug abuse and drink driving. The dissemination of information and awareness has evolved beyond a few poorly made leaflets in the corner of your local GP’s surgery, but the government still needs to expand this beyond hospitals and into wider institutions such as schools and universities.
If government fulfils its role in leading the charge then society will follow, but change needs to be government-led (and government-funded). Government should be ready and willing to protect its citizens, not only from the threats that manifest physically but also those less visible threats that come from problems in our mental and emotional well-being.
As a society we will only truly be able battle mental health issues when we put the individual first and recognise that we can no longer take a lazy ‘one size fits all’ approach to mental health.