It’s a tricky thing, mental health. For many, including me, it’s something we hide away so nobody can see that our heads aren’t so happy. But this is not an issue we should feel alone in…
Recently, I wondered what to write about. Mental health? My fear of such a subject appearing too generic for these sort of columns arose. However, that is what it is. Generic. Mental health is not an issue that only effects the ‘weak’ or emotional of us, it is an issue which effects 26.5% of Americans on a yearly basis and 1 in 6 Brits on a weekly basis, says the Mental Health Foundation. It is rife in every social group, it’s classless, it’s race-less and it’s genderless… and it’s ruthless.
Previously, I have seen the never-ending articles and comment pieces of how devastatingly awful mental health services are in the UK and nodded along in agreement, agreeing that it was dreadful but not truly understanding the consequences of such deficits in the mental health system. However, when you realise the consequences of waiting even a few weeks to just talk to someone, you can understand that this is not just a back of the board issue. It is not an issue we can simply ignore.
Under-funding of mental health services in the UK means that, if your case is not deemed urgent, you can wait for over half a year just for individual counselling. Some people contemplate taking their own lives over time time. Imagine struggling to cope with the goings-on in your head and finally summoning up the courage to seek help, only then to be told that you will have to wait six months, or even longer, for such help. You see it as pointless; you think that “oh, maybe I’ll be better by then” (a phrase I have heard myself and many around me say). It is demoralising. It is a punch in the gut. Most of all, it feels like a reminder that you don’t matter.
Of course I understand that individuals who are at such extremes should definitely be seen first. But such issues should not be left until the threat of death to accept that it deserves attention. Attack the cause, not the effect. If we aim to tackle the problem at its heart, rather than waiting until the effects have set in, not only will you likely save lives but you will also save money. Money, the only language people seem to care about. Forget those pesky lives on the line, money can be saved. Hoorah! Let us leap with enjoyment at our successful economic approach to people’s health.
Mental health services are underfunded and that’s not a statement of opinion. It is a fact. The promise, made back in 2012, of ‘parity of esteem’ (equal priority) with physical health seems long forgotten. A recent report, published in the Guardian, revealed that 45% of mental health trusts have reported no increase in their budgets since such a promise was made. Despite accounting for 28% of the total burden of disease within the NHS, it only receives 13% of the budget (in England). This is not awful, this is not dreadful. This is a scandal. But it is a scandal far from the forefront of politics or public opinion.
Parity with physical health requires a complete change in social attitudes. That is what needs to be overcome for mental health issues to take a prominent position at the forefront of doorstep politics. For the regular punter to be genuinely incensed at the under-funding of mental health services. For more people to feel comfortable in coming forward with their own mental health problems.
I acknowledge the negative social impact of hiding mental health issues. Yet, I would never dream of revealing that the reason I have been a bit off or not coming out as much was because the humble abode in which my mind rests was not so restful. Oh, ‘just been feeling a bit ill’, because physical health is a usable excuse but ‘I was feeling a bit depressed’ is not. It is not socially acceptable to be depressed or constantly anxious like it is to be suffering from a broken leg. Think, how many times do you see someone talking about how they have broken a part of their body whilst still suffering from such an injury? How many times have you seen someone talk so openly about mental health disorders whilst they are suffering from one?
We need to break from this ingrained idea that mental health is not as serious or damaging as physical health, it is. An example of this is that suicide is the highest cause of death for men aged between 20 and 49 (ONS, 2015). That simple fact demonstrates the devastating dangers that mental health issues bring if we continue to not appropriately fund the services dealing with them and make people feel as if their mental health issues should be suppressed not expressed.
I guess that is the reason I’ve decided to write this ramble, because I now personally understand the impact of under-funded mental health services. Now I very much understand the reluctance to reveal any snippet of information concerning mental health. Because I understand that maybe writing this adds to the acknowledgement that it is a common problem and there are many of us who suffer in the same silence.
Even writing this makes me think that people will judge me as some emotionally-weak adolescent who needs to get over himself. I guess that is exactly the thinking that I wished to challenge. I hope I did.