As someone who has had mental health problems (anxiety and depression) and received help for this through the NHS, I am alarmed at some of the problems which are effecting this service and the NHS.
Firstly I should say that I count myself incredibly lucky to live in a country with a health service like the NHS, and hope it is preserved for the future. I appreciate that what I am writing is from a point of privilege relative to most people in the world today, or indeed through history.
That said, it doesn’t mean things can’t be improved.
Waiting and Worsening
There are significant waiting lists for mental health services effecting many parts of the UK. People often deteriorate significantly over time, in particular when faced with eating disorders or anxiety disorders, and so early action can prevent the problem worsening.
The cost to the system (and business) snowballs as you fall behind with waiting lists, as the people waiting for treatment need more hours dedicated to them to get back on track the longer they wait. It would be much more efficient to reduce the waiting times which would probably lead to reduced treatment requirements.
There are also significant gaps in the services offered, and if you don’t quite fit the boxes, you can fall through the cracks… Some people need to get significantly worse to get the right help at all, but by that point it can be too late or result in more severe health concerns. The UK Governments own Report Closing The Gap: priorities for essential change in mental health admits that “People who use mental health services, and those that care for them, continue to report gaps in provision and long waits for services. There is still insufficient support within communities for people with mental health problems.”
It seems a ridiculous failure in appropriate problem solving to not address these issues while they are more easily and cost effectively treated. This is besides the fact that the patients will have a far better quality of life and suffer less with more timely treatment.
Solving the source and not the symptoms?
There is a growing mental health crisis in much of The West. Official figures in the UK show an increase in over a third of the number of people in contact with the NHS mental health services. There is also the alarming fact that the single biggest cause of death among men under 45 is suicide. There is a lot of stigma and shame surrounding mental health issues and it can be difficult for people to come forward or seek help in the first place. It’s an incredibly complex and difficult issue and there’s no easy fix to it.
In my opinion a lot of the growing mental health crisis is associated with culture. It is easier to sell something to someone who is unhappy, peddling false hopes of fulfilment… But to keep them ultimately unhappy. The key is the false cures, the consumerism and materialism, that keep the economic system running. There are also broader cultural expectations (such as breadwinner status for men) and practises with toxic impacts on mental health.
But at what cost? A deeply unhappy populace and unsustainable consumerism. There are costs which are hard to quantify, but which are very real. The cost to mental and physical health, the loss in productivity and the broader social impacts to name but a few. Our way of life is ultimately unsustainable without radical change in the long run for many reasons beyond the impacts on mental health.
There’s also ultra competitive pressure to be successful. Whether that means spending beyond your means while suffocating in debts, or starving to fit prescribed beauty ideals.. which no real person can meet. The ideals need to be out of reach, so that people can sell you things to help you get there.
Then there’s the growth in escapism, gaming, the internet. I love escapism, its my coping mechanism with the world, and my go to rabbit hole in life. But this does not resolve problems and mental health issues can deteriorate when indulging excessively in escapism.
Generally in problem solving its best to address the source of the problem. But I don’t think this is at all easily achieved. I think there will always be mental health issues, and so increasing funding to reduce waiting lists and provide appropriate care quickly will actually not only save money, but save lives.
The Government in the UK stated they wanted to bring parity of care for mental and physical health but according to the National Audit Office they will fail to meet these targets. There was a lot of noise made about addressing mental health in previous elections but precious little seems to have actually been done. The NHS has been in a funding crisis for some time despite having increased targets and greater demands made of it by government.
As in pain management classes I think it is also important to equip people with the strength and tools to handle what can’t be changed, many of the the pressures of life will always be there so we must learn to handle them. We also need to learn to love and accept ourselves more and not be conditioned into self loathing so that someone else can profit form our suffering.
This isn’t to say that I think striving for success and driving yourself to be the best you can be isn’t a noble aspiration. I just think this should be done in the healthiest way possible.
All of that said, the vast majority of staff I have met providing the service in the NHS are dedicated and caring. I am mostly frustrated that they are not properly resourced, and to my understanding many of the staff who work there share this frustration. I have found my own experiences of them helpful, though I have had to wait a while at times before receiving help- I know of others who have struggled far more.
I really hope that the insufficient funding of mental health (and other) services is addressed soon not only in the UK but elsewhere, as I am sure that the costs of not doing so outweigh the investment in caring for those at times of need.
For those who need help, there’s The Samaritans
For more information on male suicide visit the CALM website