The deterioration of Britain’s mental health can no longer be ignored | Mental health

It feels as if the nation’s mental wellbeing has been strangely ignored throughout the pandemic. The public has experienced what is by any definition a traumatic event this year with little time to grieve or process it, often while enduring financial insecurity and hardship. A survey by the Office for National Statistics shows the number of adults in Britain with depression has doubled during the pandemic. Almost one in five people experienced depression in June, with young adults, women, key workers and disabled people among those most likely to be affected, as well as those unable to meet unexpected costs.

The strain has been felt even more by some. A survey of low-income families by the Child Poverty Action Group found that almost half had experienced mental or physical health problems because of coronavirus as they struggled to pay for food, utilities and clothes. Meanwhile, almost half of disabled people – some of whom are now on their sixth month of voluntary shielding indoors, and are also more likely to lose their job during the pandemic – report experiencing worse mental health.

Helping these people in the coming months will require substantial investment in mental health services, services that have been starved of funding in recent years. But it is surely time to widen the conversation. If we are to tackle a mental health crisis, we must look at the bigger picture: this includes housing insecurity, low-paid work, discrimination and isolation.

We too often speak about mental health as if it is disconnected from the material conditions in which we live, as if the way individuals think and feel exist in a vacuum away from how society is run. But our jobs, homes and health are explicitly linked to our mental wellbeing. If you’re a mother struggling to hold down a job while being expected to do the bulk of home schooling, it’s easy to feel depressed. If you’re a waiter who’s lost his job and is facing eviction, it’s natural to be anxious.

These conditions have been exacerbated by the pandemic, but were clear long before it. Last year, nine out of 10 NHS mental health trusts bosses in England said they believed benefit changes in recent years had increased the number of people with anxiety, depression and other conditions. Not having enough money, housing problems and cuts to local services were also said to be contributing directly to increased demand for mental health services.

I’ve written before about the reluctance to “politicise” mental health – that myth that there’s somehow no relationship between the decisions a government makes and the psychological wellbeing of its citizens. It is a narrative that purports to care about addressing mental health problems but ignores the most obvious truth: that there are large numbers of people in this country who have really difficult lives. The poorest families are forced to skip meals and eat out-of-date food. Homelessness is soaring and millions struggle to afford the rent. Hate crimes against disabled, trans and LGBT people have rocketed in recent years, and racism is still rife. Put it another way: it is not staggering to imagine that Britain is in a mental health crisis. It would be staggering if it wasn’t.

A decade of Conservative-led governments has reduced mental health support to rhetoric, with awareness campaigns and positive slogans sold cheap in the place of NHS therapy and decent living conditions. To truly address this public health issue would require funding for all aspects of society: from tackling the widespread isolation of some disabled people, to addressing the precarious and unequal labour market that means many families are unable to pay their bills.

Prioritising mental health is a radical sort of politics. It puts the wellbeing of people above profits. It establishes housing, food and healthcare as basic rights. It questions the impact of unfettered capitalism, as well as sexism, racism and ableism, on our lives. And, of course, it demands genuine and substantial funding for mental health services, not just empty words.

As this country enters a recession, with rising unemployment and homelessness, and as local lockdowns continue to affect people’s lives, the nation’s mental wellbeing is going to become ever more pressing. There has never been a better time to stop thinking of mental health in the abstract and acknowledge how social and economic structures affect it. It is only then that ministers will be forced to do what’s actually necessary to address Britain’s mental health crisis: make the changes that enable people to have better lives.

• Frances Ryan is a Guardian columnist

Source: The Guardian

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *