Today is World Mental Health Day, a global initiative marked on October 10th each year, that aims to raise awareness about mental health issues, reduce stigma and encourage open discussions about mental well-being. In the UK, despite claims from the then Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Sajid Javid in June 2022 that he would “modernise [mental health] legislation, making sure that it is fit for the future”, the 40-year-old Mental Health Act has yet to be updated. Which begs the question, is enough being done to address mental health in the UK?
The theme for the year’s World Mental Health Day, is ‘Mental Health is a Universal Human Right’ – a message that deeply resonates with those that have lost loved one due to the escalating mental health crisis, including myself, having lost my grandfather over seven years ago.
One out of every two people in the world will develop a mental health disorder in their lifetime, according to Harvard Medical School. Diagnosed mental health conditions are a growing public health concern associated with large direct costs for individuals and society, such as the provision of health and social care, and indirect costs, including lost employment. However, this fails to encapsulate undiagnosed and untreated mental health problems, which account for over 13% of the total global burden of disease. World Mental Health Day is about calling for further action from governing bodies to ensure mental health care services are accessible to all, that the public is educated, and that social exclusion and stigmas are combatted.
In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of mental health. In the UK, the Government has been in the process of reforming and reviewing the Mental Health Act 1983 to ensure that people with mental health conditions are easily able to participate in decisions about their care, restoring their dignity, and ensuring the importance of human rights in mental health care is recognised. The proposed changes aim to give patients more control over their treatment, improve support for those in crisis, and reduce the use of police cells for those in mental health crisis. As a result of the review, a White Paper was published in January 2021, however, the Government is still yet to advance the Mental Health Bill through its legislative process. Mental Health charities, including Mind, have called on the Government to deliver this critical reform is passed before the next election.
The Government has, however, made inroads in increasing mental health funding – vowing at the beginning of 2023 that £150 million would be used to build 150 new facilities to support mental health urgent and emergency care services by April 2025. Further, they pledged to invest at least £2.3 billion of additional funding a year by March 2024 to expand and transform mental NHS health services to allow an additional two million people to access mental health support. With the strain on NHS becoming more and more prevalent, and the need for an increased workforce and funding to cut waiting times, the Government also promised to expand the NHS mental health services, to ensure that an extra 1,000 mental health nurses will be available in NHS trusts.
With the Labour Party on track to win next year’s General Election according to recent polls, focus should also turn to Labour’s track record on mental health – which has come under fire recently. Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, former shadow Mental Health Minister, took aim at Leader of the Labour Party Sir Keir Starmer following the recent reshuffle that removed the Mental Health portfolio from the Shadow Cabinet. Dr Khan, who worked hospital shifts whilst she served in the Shadow Cabinet, urged Starmer to ensure that the reform of mental health services remained a “legislative priority” in a future government.
Starmer has pledged to expand the NHS workforce by recruiting 8,500 mental health staff to cut waiting times and provide access to talking therapies so that people can access help before they reach crisis. He also plans to create community mental health hubs for children and young people with open access, as well as introduce professional support in every school – providing a “prevention is better than cure” approach. But will Dr. Khan’s plea be heard as Labour positions itself as the government-in-waiting, or will much needed changes to the Mental Health Act continue to be delayed?
This World Mental Health Day, take the opportunity to spread awareness of the importance of discussing mental health issues, and embrace conversations surrounding mental health with friends and family. Always remember that you are never alone and seek support by putting yourself first, and not being afraid to ask for help.
Samaritans – call 116 123
National Suicide Prevention Helpline UK – call 0800 689 5652
CALM – call 0800 58 58 58