by Cameron Wall
Around one quarter of the NHS’ disease burden is caused by mental health cases and one in four people will experience some kind of mental health issue each year. Such illnesses affect us individually, of course, but they also have a profound affect on the people close to us; friends, family members, partners and colleagues. The way in which a mental illness manifests itself can cause disruption to our decision-making abilities and the ways in which we function on a day-to-day basis. When we take into consideration these affects collectively, it becomes apparent that mental health causes havoc to the equilibrium of our society.
The reoccurring term that is often bounded around when talking about mental and physical health is disparity. Indeed, the Health and Social Care Act 2012 bound the NHS legally to pursue a ‘parity of esteem’ for physical and mental wellbeing. Despite this, however, disparity continues between the levels of allocated spending, where mental health receives just 11% of the overall NHS budget despite forming 23% of diagnosed illnesses.
It has often been said that a solution for mental health might be a solution for the National Health System in its entirety, but why not go one step further and suggest that a solution for mental health might be a solution for some of the issues affecting our society in its entirety. In very much the same way as a physically healthy population will prove to be a far more effective workforce, a mentally healthy population will contribute far more to the economy and to society than one that is mentally unwell. It has long been understood that a serious physical illness can lead one to fall into a state of poor mental health. What is less-acknowledged is that often this works the other way too, and poor mental health can lead to serious physical health complications.
Unfortunately, the quality and level of care mental health patients receive in the UK varies dramatically depending on where they live. Mental-health care is very much a post-code lottery. The Conservative Party recognised this as an issue, and hoped to make it one of the past, pledging to ensure that psychological therapists are available all over the country, in their 2015 manifesto.
A knock-on effect occurs when patients are unable to access the services they need to get better, at an early stage. This has a domino-effect on other public services, where the Police and Accident & Emergency services are required to stand in as a last resort to remedy the situations which could, and should, have been addressed earlier. Cutting hospital beds for mental health patients of course stops them from getting them the necessary treatment, but it also has a far wider effect on other public services. By resolving the issues earlier, we relieve certain frontline services of a financial burden.
The rather arbitrary classification of illnesses, belonging to either physical health or mental health, has precluded the latter from reaching equal footing with its physical counterpart. The effects of mental health on the individual, their life and the wider society around them are so profound that if we do not act in their best interest, in doing so we are acting against our own. We need a strong drive in recruitment into the mental health sector; to provide the necessary training so that GPs are better qualified in treating mental health patients and pointing them in the right direction if necessary; to increase funding for mental health to a more proportionally representative figure; and to ensure that patients who need it have access to the relevant mental health services.