Fuelled by a desire to achieve her vision of the “Shared Society,” Theresa May has promised what the BBC optimistically calls “mental health reform”, focusing specifically on young people and people in the workplace. This amounts to offering “mental health first aid training” to teachers, setting aside £15m for “community care”, £67.7m for “online services”, and training for employers in supporting staff who need to take time off. Also announced were two reviews: one looking into “what’s working and what isn’t” in child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS), and another looking at how workplaces can better support people with mental illness.
The announcement comes as more than 7 in 10 consultant psychiatrists specialising in CAMHS say NHS care for young people isn’t good enough, and is causing their health to deteriorate further and further, increasing the danger they pose to themselves and others. The number of young people in crisis visiting A&E has more than doubled in the past five years. Every year, 70 million work days are lost due to poor mental health.
Since 2010, CAMHS have seen £80m torn from their budget. Money ostensibly pledged to fund mental health treatment—such as the £1bn earmarked by David Cameron in early 2016—is there but not ringfenced, often ending up being used to plug other gaps in the NHS’ budget instead. The Tories are not fulfilling their pledge to put mental health on parity of esteem with physical health, and it shows. In its most recent State of Care report, the Care Quality Commission found “help was not available” for many people in contact with mental health crisis teams, and that the safety of patients in NHS trusts was a key area of concern, along with the safety of ward environments, the length of time patients spend in wards, and the safety of patients in withdrawal from alcohol and opiates.
However the problems go beyond the failure to adequately fund mental health treatment. As noted by former Shadow Minister for Mental Health Luciana Berger, school nurses, counsellors and youth workers who provide crucial care and support to young people that helps to prevent them from falling ill in the first place have seen their jobs cut under the Tories. The last six years of austerity have lead to savage attacks on the mental and wellbeing of young people in this country, with education reform increasing the pressure on school pupils and students while cuts to social services take away the support networks and extra-curricular services that could have absorbed some of the damage.
If this wasn’t enough, the “life restoring” welfare reform the Tories proudly trumpeted as one of the main features of their long-term economic plan further batter people, both young and old, who fall out of employment either due to ill mental health, or who go on to suffer with mental illness after exposure to the cruel system the government oversees. A government that cares about combatting the mental health crisis engulfing the country is not one that forces the 250,000 people who receive Employment and Support Allowance because of ill mental health to go through invasive work capability assessments. It is not one that views welfare recipients as easy targets for “spending reductions”. It is not one that views lives as expendable fodder for political points. The UN has gone so far to say that welfare reforms under the Tories constitute a breach of disabled people’s human rights. Not a word about any of this left Theresa May’s mouth.
So when Theresa May announces a review into CAMHS, when professionals and patients have been pointing out its problems for years, when she announces £15m will be spent on community care but dodges questions about ringfencing mental health funding, it’s difficult to believe that today’s announcements amount to a reform. It looks like more of the same, yet another appeal to “compassionate Conservatism”, while keeping the harsh ideology that lead to this crisis intact. We can hope that the government means what it says when it announces a fight against mental illness, but we can’t afford to go on hope alone. Too many lives are at stake.
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