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Appalling access to mental health support

ByZaic Holbrook

Mar 10, 2015

It’s nice to see that our conversations about mental health services have finally entered the political spotlight. We are constantly hearing about the scandalous funding situation for Mental Health Services in England but some time for introspection in Scotland is well needed. The Scottish Government introduced a Mental Health minister, Scottish Lib Dems have it on their main platform, and just this past week Scottish Labour have been grilling the government over how shambolic our mental health targets are, especially for young people, and the cuts to council services forced by these governments’ funding cuts and frozen council tax despite having underspent £444 million last year.

By the SNP’s own admission, not enough is being done for the NHS to meet its new 18 week target. In fact, one in five patients have to wait even longer than that. Some health boards here in Scotland still aren’t even meeting the previous 26 week target; a six month wait! What’s more, over 200 people, the majority of them young people, have been waiting for over a year. This is not just a scandal, it’s a disgrace.

It’s also true that we see an increase in people seeking mental health services, which shouldn’t be surprising. With greater campaigns to raise awareness and be more open about mental health, more of the quarter of the population is more willing to seek the help they need. But the NHS is unable to cope. You’d think with the government having an extra £444 million in hand they could at least meet the increase in need. But for this introspection of Mental Health access we cannot just look toward the NHS and Holyrood toward their failure to cope with demand for mental health services but we also need to look at our universities.

Our universities are seeing increased demand for counselling and mental health services while disability services across the UK are getting their funding cut or, as at Glasgow University, getting outsourced. Edinburgh Uni’s waiting list for the counselling service constantly expands from three to six weeks, and that’s only for short-term, six appointments of care. Anything after that and you need the NHS or expensive private health services if you can’t wait for 18+ weeks.

But if you have mental health issues, you’ll know waiting is something you’re all too familiar with: waiting to seek help, then waiting to receive help. But then a second problem for many university students occurs when there is a need to apply for special circumstance. The need to wait for another appointment(s) to get the needed evidence and then wait to hear if it’s been accepted or how it’ll affect you.

And then there is Authorised Interruption of Study, which for those who can afford it can be quite helpful or needed, but for so many students who need to interrupt studies or work, it is simply not affordable: your student funding is postponed but you can’t seek other benefits, which means having to work, which can often defeat the whole purpose of the interruption. On top of that Tier 4 international students have the added burden of worrying what will happen to their visa, a worry that for some will only deteriorate their mental health. We desperately need to change how we treat persons with mental health issues. We need more funding, we need more support, we need these barriers to our accessibility eradicated.

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