North Devon Journal, April 2016
Young people in Britain are the victims of a mental health crisis, and those in the South West are some of the hardest hit. New government proposals pledge to ignite change, but what is the reality of this scandal?
In light of a new damning independent taskforce report on the mental health provision provided by the NHS, David Cameron has urged people to focus their attention on the issue.
The ‘Five Year Forward View’ report found that one in 10 children aged 5-16 in Britain have a diagnosable mental health problem, and conduct disorder is the most common. This condition doubles the chance of children leaving school without qualifications and means they are 20 times more likely to end up behind bars.
The report also found that unnecessary suicidal deaths reached a record high in 2014 – at nearly 5,000 – and represent the greatest cause of death for those aged 15-49.
Furthermore it said “most children and young people get no support”, and the lucky few currently have a 32 week wait for routine psychological therapy appointments.
This is incredibly upsetting, particularly for myself, knowing that too many others my age are suffering behind closed doors, even after they’ve tried to open them.
Dubbed the ‘Cinderella service’ of the NHS, mental health care costs the economy £105bn a year, roughly the cost of the entire NHS.
In practice, the NHS spends a mere £9.2bn on the sector each year. Following the recommendations of the report, the Prime Minister is pledging an extra £1bn to the sector by 2020-21.
David Cameron said: “We have not done enough to end the stigma of mental health” and added the country has “focused a lot on physical health”, but not sufficiently on mental health. Perhaps, Mr Cameron, we should have been “frank” six years ago? These measures are cold comfort for the thousands of families whose members’ lives have been “put on hold or ruined”, as the report considers, through the lack of basic care for the mentally ill.
Young people facing acute mental health issues currently have three possible destinations: a specialist treatment centre, an accident and emergency department, or a police cell. Figures from the Department of Health highlight that on 52 days since April 1 2015, there were no beds available at these local centres. It’s been found that as a consequence, 10 out of the 18 NHS trusts that provided data on the issue had sent children more than 150 miles away from home for crisis care.
Liberal Democrat MP and former Health Minister Norman Lamb, who has personal experience of mental health, said “it is extremely distressing for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis to be sent far from home, just to get the treatment they need. It is essential that there are beds available for those who need them.”
NHS statistics also show that the number of children going to A&E with psychiatric conditions has doubled to nearly 20,000 a year since 2011. One young sufferer recently told Inside Out South West that A&E is “very exposed, incredibly vulnerable and very unsafe.”
However as Dr Anne Hicks, an emergency medicine consultant at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, explained, this is a chain of failures. With the specialist treatment centers at full capacity, young people are taken to A&E for therapy. But with A&E no longer able to cope with the demand, the pressure is shifted to the police. Last year over 160 young people in the South West were detained in police cells under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. In most of these cases, there was nowhere else for the patients to go.
Devon and Cornwall Police had the highest incidence of these detentions, and last year the Crime Commissioner for the force wrote to NHS bosses explaining that this situation cannot continue. He said that in future the police would take these young people to A&E instead.
Clearly, the system is at breaking point and the government’s proposed £1bn investment is unlikely to go far. So what is the solution?
It begins by raising awareness and tackling the stigma attached to mental health; charities such as Mind and Rethink Mental Illness work endlessly to achieve this.
Years & Years front man Olly Alexander recently opened up about his battles with anxiety in an interview with the Guardian. As one young fan put it: “Just talking about it has allowed people who are affected to feel more comfortable – to feel they’re not alone.”
Perhaps, when more of society supports these young people, the government will too.
By Ewan Somerville | @ewansomerville