However, while it is great news to hear that change is beginning, it’s important to recognise that even this considerable investment will not be enough to solve the many issues currently existing. The gulf between what is needed and what will be offered to the majority by their local NHS mental health services, even following the implementation of this plan, will continue to be considerable. For example, at the moment only 15 per cent of those needing psychological therapies can actually access them. With this investment, it is planned that by 2020, 25 per cent of those in need will be able to access therapy – meaning that threequarters of those in need will be unable to get effective treatment. We still have a very long way to go.
The current provision for child and adolescent mental health services is a particular area of concern. With rates of mental distress soaring among children and young people, and many problems starting to present at younger ages, the challenge of providing effective care to this agegroup is considerable. Prevention and early intervention are key, and can avoid more serious problems developing. However, to be able to intervene like this requires sufficient capacity within services to be able to respond promptly and effectively as soon as concerns are raised. Too many children and young people are effectively sent home to get worse before they can access treatment. There is also a considerable need to improve local facilities, particularly for younger children, to avoid them being sent long distances from home for essential treatment. We can only hope this increased funding goes some way to starting to expand services to meet these very significant needs.
Of course, investment in mental health services is crucial, but it cannot solve the problems that underlie the apparent rise in mental health problems in the UK. We know that those who are vulnerable are at much greater risk of falling through the cracks in the current system: the poor, the unemployed, the lonely. Alongside better investment in treatment, it is essential that as a wider society we ask what key issues make us so vulnerable emotionally: put simply, why are so many people so unhappy?
Meanwhile, many churches and voluntary groups are working hard on the frontline with those struggling to access expert support for mental health problems. For clear, easy-to-read information for churches covering all key issues around mental health check out the ‘Mental health access pack’, a joint venture between Livability and Mind and Soul.
Kate Middleton, Director, Mind and SoulFoundation