Yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a speech announcing “plans to ‘transform’ attitudes to mental health, with a focus on children and young people”. Government mental health funding, awareness and reform has, unfortunately, often been left on the sidelines and has taken the brunt of many cuts and then ultimately lacking adequate funding for the volume and quality of service it has to provide. Only a few months ago in a BBC article, it was suggested that “40% of the 58 [NHS] trusts saw budgets cut in 2015-16″. It seems that mental health services are far too often disregarded and left to deteriorate when so many people depend on them on a 24 hours basis. Which is why I truly hope these proposed reforms will actually be put into action and are not just empty statements used to boost May’s public profile…
As a young person myself, here I will be focusing on the reforms targeted towards us, although I still do greatly recognise the definite need for mental health reform across all generations.
One of May’s proposed reforms was “additional training for teachers” and “every secondary school to be offered mental health first aid training”. With mental health problems affecting 1/10 young people and a significant amount of a young person’s life occurring within an educational environment, it is inevitable that teachers/professors will have an impact on their lives and their mental health. Many teachers admit, (though through no fault of their own), that they do not receive adequate mental health training and so do not feel confident helping or even recognising when their students are struggling. With the increasing stress and pressure placed upon young people with examinations, peer pressure and an expectation to be the best, it is no wonder that many young people find themselves increasingly in need of support and guidance. It has also been highlighted by May that”politics and jobs ‘swell youth anxiety'” so teachers may well be able to provide a portion of that support needed possibly preventing a further decline in mental and often physical health too if given the education and tools to do so.
Another vital point for teachers is the knowledge for when to refer the young person to a more specialised service such as CAMHS (child & adolescent mental heath services). It would be unfair to expect teachers to deliver comprehensive mental health treatment, so it is of great importance that they know when and how to guide the young person to additional help when it goes beyond advice and low-level support. This is where I hope the “trials on strengthening links between schools and NHS specialist staff“, will be implemented effectively.
Additionally, I have also personally completed the “mental health first aid course” May refers to, being part of one of the pilot young people groups to receive the training refers to and have found it to be an extremely rewarding and informative course. I have frequently addressed the issue of lacking mental health education for both pupils and teachers in schools, so if this course was funded and provided by the government to be delivered to both teachers and increasingly so, young people, it would help educate and further de-stigmatise mental health problems, promoting more open conversations across all ages that could ultimately end up acting as a pivotal intervention or first step towards a better mental health.
Furthermore, May states that “by 2021, no child will be sent away from their local area to receive treatment for mental health issues“. Within the article it was addressed that Fiona Hollings, 19 was sent “nearly 400 miles away from her family home“, to receive specialist treatment for her eating disorder. The fear and uncertainty of an inpatient admission for a young person, already in a vulnerable position must intensify so much when there’s such a distance separating the young person and their family. It makes visits extremely complicated and the young person misses out on that key family support system which is so vital in their recovery and aiding a successful discharge from inpatient. What mustn’t be forgotten is the impact the separation will have on the parents and siblings of the young person. Heightened stress, fear and even possible deteriorating mental health for them too due to the distance of separation. The implementation of this reform above would help so many young people and their families, hopefully, allowing for a higher level of progression in their recovery whilst inpatient and decreasing rates of relapse once out in the community again, but will the government be prepared to follow through with the adequate funding for such an important aspect of mental health care?
Theresa May, I hope these reforms are not just hollow proclamations with no real plan to thoroughly implement. We need an honest, wholehearted investment into the mental health system to truly be able to make long-term differences to the lives of young people and their families. All we hear about is the supposed collapse of the NHS and how people are now losing confidence in the system. This can’t happen. This is the opposite of what needs to happen. The reforms presented can’t be ignored, you must support this change long term.
Mental health is just as important as physical health. Please follow through with the funding to allow this to be true.