Recent reports have shown the amount of hospital beds dedicated to patients with acute mental health conditions has fallen by 30 per cent in the last nine years, despite promises from the Conservative government to make mental health services a priority. Is this really all that surprising? Mental health continues to be the most invisible, the most discriminated, the most disregarded sector of the NHS. In an age of austerity, it is all too predictable that the members of society to suffer the most are still the most vulnerable.
There have also been significant drops in nurses and doctors specialising in mental health. There are 6,797 fewer nurses and 599 fewer doctors since 2009 – specialists that are desperately needed as numbers of mental health patients skyrocket.
Austerity not only affects the treatment of mental illnesses but can be rooted in the causes. There have been strong links between mental health issues and financial problems. For example, 45 per cent of people in debt struggle with mental illness, compared to just 14 per cent of those not in debt. From a student perspective, with many having to set themselves back an average £50,000 for their education, a rise in mental health issues is unsurprising. Add in the greater vulnerability of young people to mental illnesses, and we have a delightful cocktail of issues before even graduation.
Reductions in public spending, of course, come at the cost of all health services, however, it is expected that mental health is one of the first areas to suffer. This can be put down to many things, yet perhaps the most pervasive is the discrimination surrounding mental health. We live in an age where ‘snowflake’ has become the most effective buzzword to slap down sufferers from depression to anxiety, psychosis to eating disorders. It is becoming more acceptable than ever to characterise mental health issues, particularly among young people, as an irritating phase.
This is, let’s be honest, ridiculous. If as many people were at risk of homicide as they are of suicide, we would be in the Purge. If as many people suffered from broken legs as they did chemical brain imbalances, we would have a crippled workforce. The very invisibility of mental illness is not acceptable as an excuse to go on ignoring it. But we live in austerity Britain, Brexit Britain, millennial-hating, kids-these-days, have-a-pint-and-get-over-it Britain. What else can we expect from a society pretending to care about mental health, but not pretending very hard.