Why doesn’t Britain care about mental health?

On the 11th January, David Cameron announced his £1bn increase in spending on mental health services across the UK. At first glance, this would seem like a step forward for the Conservative party. However, the fact that Cameron has suddenly decided to push this increase in expenditure in everyone’s faces could be seen as a political attempt to hide the fact that the budget for mental health services across the UK was cut by 8% in real terms – amounting to £600m worth of funding since 2010. There has been an 8% reduction in the amount of hospital beds in mental health clinics. It’s surprising that such cuts were made in spite of the fact that there has been a 20% increase in the demand for mental health services over the last five years.

Admissions to mental health clinics increased from 1,750 in 1999 to 3,500 in 2013, so why has there been such a decrease in expenditure? On the other hand though, Cameron has also decided to increase funding in real terms for the physical health department by £8bn throughout the next five years, averaging £1.6bn per year. This alone illustrates the difference between the budget for physical and mental health services. Expenditure on mental health services only equates to 11% of the NHS total budget. In order to equal this unbalanced expenditure, the government would have to inject £11bn into mental health services – a drastic increase in comparison to the measly £1bn that is on offer for mental health.

Why has the government decided to disregard mental health services to such an extent? Is the quality of mental health within our nation not high up enough in their agenda to regard as important? Although many studies have allegedly shown an increase in tolerance towards mental health issues in the workplace, there is still an overpowering stigma in the UK. Only 24% of people with mental illnesses have full-time jobs. Is this because they are too afraid of what people might think?

In countries such as Argentina, mental health is more widely understood, and people are encouraged to attend therapy once a week. Therapy is an everyday occurrence and allows people to wind down and deal with the stresses from everyday, modern life. However, the culture in Britain is often to react with shock or complete silence when informed that someone attends therapy, and to attach all kinds of assumptions to this, such as that the person is “crazy”. Therapy and mental help is equal to insanity in this country, and this is the exact attitude that we must, as a society, help to eliminate in order to move on and allow people to feel safe and secure to come out and deal with their problems.

Mental health services in the USA have a very different approach to dealing with patients. America has seen a drastic rise in depression and anxiety over the last decade – though these are statistics which are difficult to determine and must be treated with caution. Because the US does not have a health service comparable to the NHS, the multimillion-dollar drug companies run this industry. It has become an easy and lazy habit to misdiagnose people and prescribe them with antidepressants, Valium or Xanax in order to avoid long consultations and increase profits for these companies. Sales for these drugs have increased by 400% in the last 20 years, whilst 20% of Americans have been diagnosed with anxiety- and depression-related issues.

Some may blame the increase on the ever-demanding, stressful society we have helped mould over the years. Increasing levels of pressure in school, university and the workplace have played their part; people feel less engaged and valued as they are constantly set difficult and often unrealistic targets to meet. Expectations for young people are growing, as they are expected to pay ridiculous fees in order to attain a degree they’re probably not interested in, in the slight hope that they will be able to land a well-paid job in the future.

We have been taught as a society to survive, rather than live a self-fulfilling, content life. Our capitalistic society has caused us to put money and success above our own mental and physical health, so it’s no wonder that we are experiencing rising levels of mentally ill people. However, interestingly enough, whilst less-severe mental health issues have been increasing, illnesses such as schizophrenia have been decreasing, making our social hypothesis even more plausible.

So what is the real reason behind the increase in mental health issues and the decrease in government expenditure? Why has the government deemed it more important to help fund the physical health side of the NHS, rather than fund both physical and mental services equally? Does the government not regard mental health to be important enough? How can a society be expected to evolve and progress without treating the core of the problem?

We are not robots. In order to increase productivity and development, we must first focus on a nation’s mental wellbeing and happiness. We must help build a service that will provide the necessary facilities and professionalism in order to combat mental health issues and support people with everyday stress.

It is obvious, however, that Cameron cannot see the problems he is causing by cutting the budget. Whether the reason be cultural ignorance towards the subject, or the fact that he has found “more important” areas to spend the tax-payer’s money on, we can only wonder. However, this doesn’t exclude the fact that the mental health facilities in this country need serious improvement, and until we help to better mental health services, we will be unable to better ourselves as a community.


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