Could this epidemic of mental illness trigger positive changes for us all?

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women in despair

Rather than fall into despair about the growing mental health crisis, we need to ask ourselves: “Could this epidemic of mental illness trigger positive change?” Suffering in the UK is now widespread and growing.  We no longer have a government or indeed many politicians who are committed to easing suffering.  But mental health is now a crisis on top of a crisis and it is down to us to act.  For if we do act, we may see many positive changes to our broken society.

Mental illness on an epidemic scale both threatens our futures and provides a key to create positive change.  And it is down to all of us to decide whether we accept the threat or choose to have positive change.

Britain is now blighted by an unprecedented rise in mental illness and an abysmal failure to address this crisis.  This epidemic of illness and distress must now be tackled with some urgency. Or, our country will need to forget about any return to prosperity and all our lives will be affected.

A mental health crisis has become firmly established in our society for many years.  Our politicians don’t know how to deal with it and  don’t really have the will to.  Investment in services which  help those who may never be able to work is always less than elsewhere.   But now, we have developed a culture of neglecting mental illness, even services for those who may return to work are under-resourced.

The mental health crisis today

The pandemic has obviously placed an enormous emotional and financial strain on our population.  And it is understandable that resources would be channelled into tackling the virus rather than the mental illness. But our Government has failed even to tackle this virus and tens of thousands have died unnecessarily.  Anyone who doubts this needs to watch this video where Michael Mansfield QC presents the preliminary findings of the People’s Covid Inquiry. (The final report from the inquiry accuses our Government of Misconduct in Public Office.)  Meanwhile mental illness has become epidemic.  Including in our children and young people.

Why our psychiatric system is broken

The UK has always relied heavily upon the use of private sector inpatient beds for psychiatric patients when NHS beds are not available.  As I wrote in this piece for Counterfire, I have spent many years in psychiatric hospitals.  The standards in the private sector hospitals were  notably worse than in  the NHS.  It shone a light one how profit can interfere with the standard of healthcare.

But the desire for profit is damaging NHS services too.  For the reliance on pharmaceuticals for treatment is appealing for government’s who are keen to assist big pharma grow profits.  But a humane and therapeutic approach doesn’t come solely from pills.

A new approach

With so many people in our nation suffering mental illness, including one in six school children, perhaps its time for a new approach?  It takes time to train psychiatric nurses, psychiatrists and therapists. And we already have a shortage.  Could this current crisis and the urgency with which it needs to be addressed be a trigger for a positive change in the way mental illness is addressed?

Funding and the training of new professionals is urgently needed.  But we should be calling for an immediate injection of emergency funding to tackle the current crisis.  There needs to be far greater oversight of what happens when the NHS places patients in private sector hospitals.  I experienced the worst of my care in St Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton.  Over the years I have seen countless stories in the media about poor standards in that hospital. But still it takes 90% of its patients from the NHS.

There needs to be a recognition that services are quick to write off people with various conditions as people who will never recover.  If a person can improve the quality of their life then every effort needs to be made to help them do just that.

Psychiatric services often need the co-operation of the patient. So the fact that so many patients and ex-patients say they feel abused by the services should be ringing alarm bells  for us all. That sense of feeling abused doesn’t always result from intentional abuse.  But it is just as damaging and trust will be lost.  Patients will not co-operate with services they can’t trust.

Social problems – the elephant in the room

However, one thing that stands out like a sore thumb is social problems as a driver of mental illness. Priority must be placed on tackling social problems as a preventative measure.  We don’t need to train mental health professionals to do this. It can be done now. But we live with a Government who has displayed no desire to do so. However, they need our votes to stay in office and our co-operation to run the country.  This is the key to our own power to create change.

The system is broken, and not just the psychiatric system.  Our entire political, social and economic system on which our country is run is broken and it is creating illness.  We all need change. Could this epidemic of mental illness be the factor that results in the system change we all need?  I’m afraid the answer to that lies with all of us.  Because unless the population acts it won’t happen.

It may be a frightening prospect but the potential for improvements in all our lives is a powerful motivater. A great start would be for people to all start writing to their MP and asking what they are gong to do about the mental health crisis. We need to demand action on the problems in society that create illness and damage us all.

Eastbourne’s MP, Caroline Ansell, made a somewhat meaningless statement in Eastbourne Herald regarding her concerm about the mental health of children.  She mentioned  how the pandemic meant children missed school proms and birthday parties.  If you live in Eastbourne please remind her that many children are missing adequate nutrition, a decent home or basic security. These are the issues that drive mental health and she needs to wake up to that fact.

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