The elephant in the room

Are people finally noticing mental health?

In January of this year, something significant (though largely unnoticed) happened in the world of health and wellbeing. David Cameron became the first Prime Minister in British history to speak about mental health issues in a public speech.

As well as pledging £1 billion investment in mental health services, he also said he wanted a more ‘open’ and ‘mature’ approach to an issue mired in both stigma and under-investment.

This would all seem to be a big step forward. So why wasn’t it applauded more widely?

Health professionals are sceptical of the Prime Minister’s remarks and with good reason. The austerity measures pursued by his government, they claim, have created much of the crisis David Cameron describes.

In a letter signed by hundreds of psychiatrists, psychotherapists and other experts in the field, Tory policies have been described as ‘profoundly disturbing’. To support their claim, they note that the demand for mental health services has risen 20% over the last five years, while mental health service budgets have been cut by 8% in real terms.

Writing in The Independent, Neha Shah says the reality on the ground during these years has been 590 additional suicides and an extra 279,000 prescriptions for anti-depressants.

These are not happy statistics.

It is also estimated that recent cuts in services have left 10,000 victims of sexual abuse waiting over a year for counselling services.

To this extent, the Prime Minister’s offer of a £1 billion towards the problem may sound a little hollow. It is reckoned it would take an £11 billion investment to reverse the cuts made by the government.

But behind this story, whichever side you take, is the growing awareness that when we speak of health, we must also speak of mental health.

I write as CEO of the Mind Clinic which takes counselling into a wide range of organisations. With experience of over 2500 one-to-one meetings with employees, one truth is clear: more important than our external circumstances in life are our internal resources.

Life is difficult – whether its relationship problems, financial troubles, housing issues, family crises… or some other experiential monster.

In the end, however, it’s not our situation that cripples us; but our inability to respond to that situation with resilience and creativity.

Yes, it’s all about our mental health…the subject no one likes to speak about. To most employers, a broken ankle is so much more acceptable than depression when it comes to sick notes.

And the imbalance is reflected in the NHS where mental health services currently receive only 13% of funding despite accounting for more than 23% of the disease burden in the UK.

When we speak about health – whether our own or the health of others – there’s an elephant in the room.

At least the Prime Minister has noticed it at last.

Featured in HSM Magazine.

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