10th October is World Mental Health Day 2022, and this year’s theme is ‘Make Mental Health and Well-Being for All a Global Priority.’
While this theme is a laudable focus point for world leaders and others of global influence, it is vital that we start talking about the shocking inequalities in mental health provision closer to home.
A growing disparity between those who have access to mental health support in the UK, namely employees of organisations who provide it in a timely and effective manner, and the rest of society.
The chronic lack of access to NHS mental health support, plus severe delays in mental health treatment for the relatively few who qualify for it, are narratives that urgently need to be addressed.
Lou Campbell, mental health professional and director of programmes at Wellbeing Partners says: ‘It is a fact that most employers are picking up the burden of mental health care in the UK for their employees, and providing them with high-quality mental health support. But where is the outrage that everyone else is being left to fend for themselves without a functioning mental health service on the NHS?’
‘Chronic underfunding by the government over the past decade, plus a complete absence of furore that roughly 12% of the British population needs mental health support but cannot even get onto the NHS waiting list for it is absolutely staggering. Why is there no coverage in the media of this disparity, this two-tiered mental health system in our society? How is the government getting away with this?’
Mental health referrals in the UK reached a record 4.3 million last year, and the NHS mental health services are struggling to cope despite their dedicated staff’s best efforts. Over 1.6 million people in the UK are on the waiting list for NHS mental health support, with some waiting lists stretching to four years, and a further 8 million cannot even get onto the waiting lists.
Campbell continues: ‘For those who do have good and timely access to mental health support, it is usually coming via their workplace, where the topic of mental health has shifted from being a taboo subject to being the main focus of HR strategies at many media to large organisations. There is a vast chasm between what is available to employees versus everyone else.’
‘The government must urgently act to fund NHS mental health services adequately – it is simply unacceptable that if you are self-employed, unemployed, economically inactive, or retired your access to mental health support, free at the point of use, is likely to be effectively non-existent.’
‘Turning to privately funded alternatives is going to become even more challenging in the current cost of living crisis and as rising interest rates start to cripple the finances of mortgaged homeowners and others in debt. The media has a role in forcing the government to act.’