MENTAL illness has been a “hidden injustice” in the UK as a result of “unacceptable” social stigma, the Prime Minister said this week as she announced new measures to improve mental-health support in schools, universities, homes, and workplaces.
Mrs May was delivering the annual Charity Commission lecture, on Monday. The Government would conduct a review of mental-health services for children and young people, produce a Green Paper, and invest £15 million in alternatives to mental care in hospitals, she said. A further £67.7 million was to be invested in a “digital mental-health” programme to allow those suffering with stress and anxiety to check their symptoms and to receive advice and therapy online.
“For too long, mental illness has been something of a hidden injustice in our country, shrouded in a completely unacceptable stigma, and dangerously disregarded as a secondary issue to physical health,” she said. “Yet, left unaddressed, it destroys lives, it separates people from each other, and deepens the divisions within our society.”
The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, who is the lead Bishop on healthcare, was cautious in welcoming the reforms. Specific issues needed “careful attention”, he said. “Much is rightly made of the value of empowering young people, but many children and young people are massively disempowered.
“Looked-after children [in care] often have particular mental-health needs, while children from the poorest families experience the highest rates of mental illness. These wider issues must be rigorously addressed if real steps forward are to be taken.”
First-aid mental-health training is to be offered to every secondary school in the country, and trials rolled out to “strengthen links” between schools and NHS staff in the community, it was announced. A review of mental-health services for children and teenagers, led by the Care Quality Commission, is to identify failing areas. Its results will be published in a Green Paper.
Bishop Newcome said: “A corollary of improving the mental health of children and young people through school-based interventions is that teachers’ mental-health needs must also be taken seriously. As with all initiatives, aspirations must be backed with resources, detailed planning, and effective execution. I very much hope that this will be the case in this instance.”
The Children’s Society expressed similar concerns. “While specialist training for teachers is welcome, our concern is that teachers are often already overstretched,” the chief executive, Matthew Reed, said. “The money earmarked for mental-health services for children and young people has all too often been spent elsewhere. This funding must be ring-fenced.”
A statement from the Evangelical Alliance said: “While we commend the vision, a shared society must go beyond warm words. Renewing civil society must start with attention being given to supporting relationships — of marriage, family, community and nation — and the Church has a key role to play in fostering and supporting those relationships.”
Livability, a disability charity of Christian foundation, agreed: “Churches can play a key part in normalising conversations about emotional well-being — both within their congregation and in the broader community. Churches can also pioneer practical responses — by creating places of welcome and belonging for people living with mental illness in their neighbourhood.”
Government figures suggest that one in four of the population of the UK suffers from a mental disorder in their lifetime, at a cost of £105 billion to the economy. Young people are particularly vulnerable, with 75 per cent of problems starting by the age of 18.
Overstretched employees on low wages are also at risk. In 2015, 18 million days were lost to sickness caused by mental illness, costing employers about £9 billion. The Government spends an estimated £11.7 billion a year on mental-health services.
The head of KPMG’s Be Mindful Network, Jessica Carmody, said: “Having a supportive workplace makes a vital difference to our mental health. Additional training for anyone in the workplace about mental health is a positive step towards progress in this area.”
The three chairs of three House of Commons select committees — health, public accounts, and communities and local government — wrote to Mrs May last Friday, urging her to reach a “cross-party consensus” on the future of health and social-care funding. The letter, sent by Sarah Wollaston MP, Meg Hillier MP, and Clive Betts MP, states that “the ongoing separation of health and social care is creating difficulties for individuals, and avoidable barriers and inefficiencies. Any review should cover the two systems.”
On Monday, the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, told the Commons in his statement on the NHS that the four-hour waiting target in A&E, introduced by Labour in 2004, should not include the estimated 30 per cent of visits that are not emergencies. The Royal College of Emergency Medicine told The Guardian this week that a significant number of A&E departments were falling short of the four-hour standard.
Military mental health support “inadequate”. The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, has called for better mental-health provision for military personnel, describing the current level of care as “less than adequate”.
Bishop Foster was introducing a debate in the House of Lords, on Monday, on the impact of the Armed Forces Covenant, an agreement between the Government and the Armed Forces Community intended to ensure that those who serve or have served, and their families, are treated with fairness and respect. It was introduced in 2013 as a result of the Armed Forces Act 2011.
“The ripple effect of the covenant should not be underestimated,” he said. “Only last month the Karimia mosque in Nottingham signed up and ushered in a wave of Muslim-owned businesses that are now contributing to supporting members of the military.”
But other areas in the agreement were falling behind, he said. “There have been undoubted improvements in surgical care and rehabilitation for physical injuries, but mental-healthcare provision lags behind. It depends on an NHS which has been chronically underfunded in this area . . . Mental-health provision is strained at best, and provision for military personnel is often less than adequate.”
While he welcomed the mental-health reforms announced by the Prime Minister, he questioned the Government’s awareness of mental-health issues in the military, and the impact of such service on family life. “Mental-health problems are known to put a strain on relationships, and it sadly remains the case that the divorce rate among military families is double that of the civilian world.”
Bishop Foster maintained that it was “unfair that those seeking to adopt children, and those seeking to get their children into new schools, still face huge hurdles because of the special circumstances of service life. . .
“The principle of the Covenant is that those who serve in the Armed Forces and their families should face no disadvantage compared with other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services. For this to be the case, there has to be a clear understanding of what is fair and what is achievable.”