Monday 17 October 2016

MENTAL HEALTH - it needs our money

I am some distance from being any sort of expert on mental health. I am learning. It is an amazingly complex subject, and one where the central organ of the subject, the brain, is still in many ways a mystery.

As I have learnt I have uncovered two truths. One is the huge prevalence of mental health issues. There cannot be many who are not touched in one way or another by the issue.

The second truth is about money; the support services are underfunded. The effect of this underfunding, which borders on chronic, is that those who need help are either getting less help than they need, or not getting any help at all. This impacts us all. The scale of the issue  and the fact that funding is being cut cannot but impact us. This manifests itself in many ways, not least is the distress to those who are suffering.

The numbers are astonishing, and this only should help remove the stigma associated with mental health issues. Mental health problems are common, very common; something like a quarter of all people are affected every year.  It is a growing problem too, and the young are not immune either. Numbers of those with depression is on the rise as well.

Those with untreated mental health issues are more likely to have other health issues, and often live shorter lives. For instance, those with untreated bipolar disorder and schizophrenia have a life expectancy ten to twenty-five years lower than the general population.  Depression increases mortality and the likelihood of other issues like cancer.

The risk factors include deprivation, although members of minority groups also have increased propensity. Trauma, discrimination and substance abuse are often factors for the presence of mental ill health.

It is more than a twenty-first century problem, but our increasingly stressful lives , together with fractured communities and the reconfiguring of families, has meant that old-fashioned support networks are not enough.

As with anything, there is a cost to helping. It is also true that early intervention saves money that would otherwise have been spent later. Whilst many cope with their mental health issues, some end costing not just themselves (both financially and in more personal terms) a lot, but also affect the communities and the public purse. Substance abuse is one obvious manifestation of untreated mental health issues, incarceration is another.

The Government should be looking to spend more on mental health, much more. An aspirant Labour Government should be making promises too (and I am pleased that progress is being made). When so many lives are touched by this issue it will resonate with voters. This is not an issue to play politics with, it is an issue that politicians must see as a priority.

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