One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year . It is an issue which affects all of us, because everyone knows someone with a mental health problem, whether it is a wife with postnatal depression, or a friend who experiences anxiety attacks. Yet for too long there has been a conspiracy of silence about mental health in this country, with many people afraid to talk about their mental health for fear of experiencing stigma and discrimination.
This lack of awareness has led to an inequality at the heart of our NHS. People with mental health problems are far less likely to be able to get access to treatment than those with physical health problems, and far more likely to have to wait months for an appointment(1). Children and adults can be sent hundreds of miles from home because of a lack of care available in their local community(2), or end up in police cells when they have committed no crime because there is nowhere for them to be assessed in a safe environment(3).
One in 10 children and young people experience a mental health problem. That’s 3 in every classroom(4) . Yet three quarters do not get access to the treatment they need(5). If this happened in physical health there would be an outcry. Imagine if your son or daughter had diabetes but was denied any medication, or had to wait months and months to see a doctor. In contrast, the lack of access to treatment in mental health has been a hidden scandal which has been going on for decades.
There is both a moral and an economic case for change. It is estimated that mental health costs £100bn to our economy(6) in terms of lost days at work, benefits, GP appointments and A&E visits, police and ambulance services.
In recent years, however, there has been a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. In September 2014, then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg MP announced the first ever waiting time standards in mental health to be introduced by April next year(7). Building on this, the coalition government’s final budget contained an investment of £1.25bn over five years to improve child and adolescent mental health services(8). This was backed up by the publication of ‘Future in Mind'(9), a roadmap for transforming services to ensure that young people get the right help, in the right place, at the right time.
Nevertheless, we are still in the foothills of the journey to improving care for people with mental health problems in this country. That’s why Centre Forum has chosen to focus on exploring how services can be improved, identifying the barriers to change and outlining robust recommendations to government, policy-makers and local commissioners to support this process of transformation over the years to come.
For more information about our work in mental health, please contact Emily Frith.