Does the UK have much to shout about on World Mental Health Day?

Nick Triggle
Health correspondent
@nicktriggleon Twitter

Image source, Getty Images

The government has certainly captured the headlines on World Mental Health Day as it hosts ministers from around the world for a global summit.

All three are, of course, welcome. Although a cynic might suggest all the government has done with the appointment of Jackie Doyle-Price as Suicide Prevention Minister is make her title longer - she was already the minister responsible for mental health.

But the good news cannot mask the serious problems mental health services are facing.

Research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) published earlier this week looked at long waits for treatment.

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Its poll of 500 mental health patients found one in four had waited more than three months to see a specialist. This includes people with alcohol problems and bi-polar disorder as well as those suffering from stress, depression and anxiety.

The report warned the waits were causing major problems for people, with their mental health deteriorating, relationships breaking down and jobs being lost.

The truth is services are incredibly stretched. The RCP says one in 11 consultant psychiatrist posts is unfilled, while nurse mental health vacancies are even worse at one in seven.

These are figures for England but the situation is no better elsewhere in the UK:

  • In Scotland, mental health targets are being missed
  • In Wales, numerous reports have warned about the growing pressures

It helps to explain why mental health is estimated to cost the economy about £35bn a year.

Child mental health services are arguably even worse. Services are organised by both local councils and the NHS and over the years it has become clear many children are falling through the gaps.

A report just published by the National Audit Office says even if the government achieves what it set out to in its mental health strategy two years ago, which was accompanied by extra funding allowing it to pay for the school checks initiative announced on Wednesday, there would still remain "significant unmet need".

What is more, history shows the more support you provide for mental health, the more problems you find as previously undiagnosed cases come forward.

It is why - if you scratch below the surface - you will find lots of people working in the field lamenting the state of care despite the positive news being unveiled and after years of promises that mental health would be given "parity of esteem" with physical health.

The highly respected chief executive of Sane, Marjorie Wallace, says she is constantly hearing "disturbing" stories about:

  • people being detained in police cells because of a lack of beds
  • children being turned away when they need help
  • families travelling hundreds of miles to find care

It may be World Mental Health Day but all eyes in England are focused not on what is happening on Wednesday but how the government responds with its 10-year plan for the NHS. It is due out in November and once again we are being told mental health will be a priority.

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