Both the issue of mental health and mental healthcare services have long been an unfairly-marginalised concern, both within the NHS and in the wider debate on healthcare in the UK. A consistent lack of attention and underinvestment across the years has meant that mental healthcare services across England has meant a significant gap – a chasm – now exists between the standards of mental healthcare services and physical healthcare services. The 2012 Health and Social Care Act pledged that there would be ‘parity of esteem’ between physical and mental healthcare services, which placed mental health and the services that surround it on an equal footing with physical health. This was a progressive step forward, as it not only enshrined theoretical and practical equality of investment but it also drew attention to the existing disparity in both the quality and range of health services available to those suffering from a mental health problem.
However, bold statements and attention mean very little when real change is not successfully implemented and tangible results are not achieved or progressed toward. In this next series of blog posts, Will Stent will be examining what challenges have currently facing mental healthcare services, what improvements or changes have been made, and what the future of mental healthcare looks like.
Why does mental health matter?
Before delving into the challenges and complex realities of our current mental healthcare services, we have to answer one (well, two really) question(s) clearly – why does mental health matter? And why should we give mental health the same attention as physical health?
The answer or answers to the first question are simple yet still not emphasised enough. Good or positive mental health is fundamental in creating positive outcomes elsewhere in an individual’s life. Relationships, education, employment, social situations, family situations, periods or occasions of physical or emotional hardship – all are made more successful, more beneficial, easier, and more more rewarding because of good mental health. So when an individual’s mental health is not good, or is suffering or struggling, every other aspect of that individual’s life suffers.
On a more practical level, mental health matters because issues and problems surrounding it are growing across society. Mental health problems already account for a significant proportion – 26% – of NHS activity and our healthcare focus. This is likely to continue to grow as the number of people affected by mental health problems continues to increase. Currently it is estimated that one-in-four adults will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime. One-in-ten children currently do suffer from a mental problem. One-in-four older people living in the community, and 40 per cent of older people living in nursing or community homes, suffer from mental health problems such as serious anxiety or dementia.