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My concerns about Government's mental health plans

 Ed Freshwater 27 Jan 2017 Mental Health Forum

As Chair of the RCN Mental Health Forum committee, I’m pleased mental illness is high on the Government’s agenda. But I have grave concerns about turning the rhetoric into reality.

The claims of “hidden injustice” are misleading; for years charities, professionals and other interested bodies have demonstrated the inequalities and stigma through lobbying, research, campaigns, education, policy development and advertising.

Mental health first aid training in schools will only be helpful if teachers can access services that respond promptly. A preventative strategy in schools and at home is required. Presently NHS mental health and primary care staff are struggling to cope due to high demand and poor staffing levels.

Proposed steps to improve mental health in workplaces won’t be effective without tackling pressures on both employers and staff. Short term contracts, use of agency staff and continuous competition to tender creates uncertainty. The NHS itself is increasingly forced into this chaos; a 10% drop in nurses since 2010, 30% reduction in university applications, early retirement and long-term illness from stress are all barriers to providing this service.

We must not be over reliant on digitally-assisted therapy, only using it to support patients who have already received a proper diagnosis. Loneliness and isolation may not be best addressed by online methods when human contact is so vital. Promoting new models of community-based care such as crisis cafes and community clinics is a good idea if done well, not on the cheap.

It is good to hear the Government want to do more to support those at risk of suicide and self-harm. However, they should be asking why the numbers of people at risk is so high. There is a need for active research to find out, and a pragmatic plan to prevent their suffering.

Of course, it’s always good when senior politicians get passionate about mental health, and anything that raises the profile of equality and parity campaigns is welcomed.

On the other hand, we’ve heard this all before. We’ve had promises of money which seems to have been swallowed up by acute general services. We’ve heard the speeches about parity, about stigma, about “hidden injustice” so many times. We’ve heard so many times that we can and we must and we shall do better. Yet life chances remain worse for those with serious mental illness, beds are still cut, recruitment is tough, budgets still slashed and services carved up.

Justice is built on deeds, not words. There’s a lot of work to do before we get there.

Ed Freshwater

Ed Freshwater

RCN Mental Health Forum Chair

Mental Health Nurse

Ed started working in mental health as an HCA in 2009, before starting his nursing degree. He has written a regular column for the British Journal of Nursing and is passionate about protecting and empowering those most marginalised by mental illness, and championing the role of the mental health nurse.