In the week before World Mental Health Awareness Day, Hannah Overton, Health and Women’s contributor, talks about the harsh realities facing one societies most overlooked demographics…
“If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand”, Theresa May declared in her first speech as Prime Minister. The passion with which those words left her mouth could have fooled any bystander but those within the system knew better. They knew that there would be no solutions. They knew that her empty words would lead to more hushed up scandals, wherein money would be scraped from worthy programs, (last time it was public health,) and thrown haphazardly at mental health services as had happened under Cameron’s government (Theresa May, a cabinet minister at the time, was silent on the issue). There would be no “parity of esteem” between mental and physical health services as the Conservative party had claimed. Jeremy Hunt’s decimation of the NHS via the Health and Social Care Act, foreshadowed by Tony Blair’s government’s march towards privatisation, has lead to an underfunded and understaffed service that cannot meet the requirements of those who desperately need it.
Failings resulting in death
The lack of action is reflected in the stories of those let down so cruelly by the system. Matty, aged just 25 and a promising barrister, was found dead after being told that the wait for services was more than six months. His cause of death was suicide. His uncle, Hull East MP Karl Turner, gave a moving speech in parliament about his nephew, saying “he was the nearest thing to a son I had. It’s taken me all this time before I can speak about it without bursting into tears.” The failures of the mental health service affect those left behind as much as those who leave us too soon.
My experience was similar. After she suspected that I was suffering from the severe form of Bipolar disorder known as type 1, my GP referred me to mental health services in Camden. Over the next six months, they argued with her about my need to be seen, claiming in one email that I was too ill for their service and in another that I was not ill enough. During this Kafkaesque nightmare my mental health quickly deteriorated, I failed my exams and I attempted suicide by stepping in front of a moving car. Thankfully, I was physically unharmed, but my mental health remained in crisis. After I was eventually treated by mental health services, my health improved drastically and I have restarted my studies. I am one of the lucky ones.
A crisis engendering despair
But the mental health crisis goes beyond students and the young. According to the Office For National Statistics, “suicide is the leading cause of death for men aged 35-49…accounting for 13% of all deaths”. Such statistics have lead to the formation of organisations such as CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably). That mental health advocacy and support has been outsourced to the charitable sector, (a sector that is chronically in need of money and staff), is a flagrant and shameful attempt by the government to shirk responsibility for the care of those with mental health difficulties.
As with many social problems, mental health carries a gender gap. Unipolar depression, which, according to the World Health Organisation, will be the second leading cause of global disability burden by 2020, is twice as common in women as men and is also thought to be more persistent in women . Reducing the number of women suffering from depression would “contribute to significantly lessening the global burden of disability” says the WHO, meaning less productivity days lost and less money spent on healthcare. In other aspects of mental health, men are at a disadvantage. The lifetime prevalence rate for alcohol dependence disorder is twice as high in men but men are less likely to be diagnosed with any disorder despite there being no marked difference in prevalence of severe mental disorders between genders. These gender gaps can partially be explained by biases enforced on patients by gender roles: men are expected to be stoic so are less likely to disclose any mental health difficulties to a healthcare provider. Women are assumed to be more emotional so may be treated less seriously when they do disclose. The bias innate in healthcare towards each gender is unacceptable and must be tackled if we hope to close the gender gap.
The problem with society…
The media plays an intolerable role in the production of stereotypes against those with mental illness. In their war against those with invisible disabilities, the tabloids have called us scroungers, skivers, workshy, and, worst of all, liars. They dishonestly push the falsehood that those of us with depression, anxiety, mania and even more severe conditions, are faking it in order to get the measly pittance that the government deigns to give those too ill to work. These lies seep into public consciousness and discolour their views of those with mental illnesses, leading to a shameful lack of public outcry when we are trampled on by budget and benefit cuts.
For every person living with a mental health condition, £10 is spent on research. The government would have you believe that this is more than enough, but when the figures are broken down depression and anxiety, the two most common disorders, receive just £1.55 and 21p per person respectively. This disgustingly low amount of money is paired with the fact that for every £1 spent on research by the government just 0.3p is donated from charities. This lack of funding reflects societies attitude towards mental health as a non-issue, something that isn’t as worthy of their donations as the donkey sanctuary.
The UN defined mental health as a “policy priority” last year. And yet, in the developed world, it would be hard to argue that it was one. Healthcare is a human right and when we deny those with mental illnesses the right to access it, we deny their humanity. When an individual is told that the wait list for CBT is one and a half years, when a child is sent to a mental health treatment unit hundreds of miles from home, when the female suicide rate is allowed to rise to its highest since 2005 in England, the British Government should hang its head in shame.
Here at UCL, we refuse to let the stories of those with mental illnesses go untold. That’s why, on Saturday the 11th of February, there will be a day all about mental health called What Do You Think? Through workshops, talks, panels and instillations, the realities of living with mental health problems will be told. We will hear from those living with mental illness, their siblings, professionals and artists, each with a unique perspective. We will be delving into the ties between mental health and sexuality, gender, religion, and the media, keeping at heart the views of those living with mental illness.
We refuse to be silenced. We refuse to let the government brush our lives under the rug. We refuse to let them get away with their treatment of us. We are fearless and we need your support. Get involved by searching What Do You Think? on Facebook to learn more and to join us in our fight.