It has been estimated that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem every year with the British Medical association describing mental illness as “the single largest burden of disease in the UK.” Despite government pledges to put mental health on equal footing with physical health it has been shown that mental health services are understaffed and underfunded. As a result, it has been shown that people with Severe Mental Illnesses are struggling to access treatment for their conditions.
Parity of Esteem
The Health and Social care act of 2012 created a legal responsibility for there to be a ‘parity of esteem’ between mental and physical conditions. This means that mental health would be valued as much as physical health. However, despite mental health problems accounting for 23% of the burden of disease in the UK it was found by the mental health dashboard that CCGs only spent 13% of funding on mental health services.
Reducing the Stigma surrounding Mental Health
In recent years there has been a reduction of the stigma surrounding mental health among the general public moreover not only are people more accepting of someone with a mental health condition, a survey into British social attitudes towards mental health found that people spend longer thinking about their own mental health and are more willing to seek help for problems they experience with their mental health. The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) state
‘As we raise awareness, more people rightly ask for professional support’.
However, as mental health becomes increasingly destigmatised it is becoming clearer that there is a lack of resources for the amount and complexity of conditions people seeking support from mental health services require. One of the key reasons for this is that the NHS is significantly underfunded. Although the mental health services are currently receiving unprecedented funding and support from the government It has been found that if the NHS increased the proportion of people with mental health conditions it treats to 70% by 2033 then spending would have to increase by £27 billion.
Many mental health roles are being left unfulfilled with it being found that 1 in 10 consultant psychiatrists roles are vacant and although there has been an increase in the number of people being able to access talk therapies such as CBT there are not enough people in specialist positions that can provide support for people with more severe mental health illnesses. As these people have more complex mental health needs they often have to wait the longest to receive help.
It has been shown that in recent years increased funding has allowed 89% of people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety to access psychological therapy within six weeks of referral. However, the British Medical Association has found that people with more severe mental health illnesses had to wait longer with some people having to wait up to two years for treatment. The British medical society says
“Without the right therapy, some patients deteriorate and become more vulnerable, being passed from GP surgeries to emergency departments unable to find the most appropriate treatment for their illness.”
Unfortunately, it is often the case that the health of people with a mental health condition deteriorates before they are able to receive help. The charity young minds recently found that three quarters of young people’s health deteriorated while waiting for treatment. Indeed, in a survey of mental health surveys users by the royal college of psychiatrists and the mental health charity rethink found that one user was told that they would have to wait six months before to access child and adolescence mental health services unless they went to A & E the user commented:
“you shouldn’t be told [that]. Why should I have to reach that point?”
Preventing the worsening of mental health conditions is particularly important in light of evidence that suggests early intervention is the best way of reducing the severity of the condition for example with schizophrenia it has been suggested that an effective way of preventing someone with schizophrenia having later psychotic episodes is to prevent the first psychotic episode from occurring. However less than 0.1% of total annual NHS budget is spent on prevention and it has been found that when people with severe mental health illnesses first went to their GPs they were unable to access treatment because although they were showing some symptoms of a condition they did not yet meet the criteria for a mental health condition.
There is also the problem of people having to travel far from their home to receive treatment with it being found that at end of June 2018, there were 645 inappropriate out-of-area bed placements. this can delay recovery and make it more difficult for families, carers and friends to visit. Yet again the people most affected by this are those with more severe mental health illnesses. All this evidence shows that although there has been significant attention and funding directed towards mental health more needs to be done so that people with severe mental illnesses can access support.
Article by University of Birmingham intern Natasha Osborn Patel twitter.com/patelosborn