All the main party manifestos cite mental health as a priority. It’s heartening to see that – in words at least – they agree it should have the same status as physical health in terms of recognition and treatment access.
Voters also view health as key. Since the 1980s, NatCen's British Social Attitudes survey has found the public consistently ranked it as their number one priority for extra spending.
The proportion of people with symptoms of mental illness getting treatment increased from one in four in 2007, to around one in three when last assessed on the 2014 Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS). While an improvement, most people affected by mental illness were receiving neither psychological therapy nor medication when we spoke to them. Parity with treatment for physical health conditions is clearly still some way off. The Conservative manifesto includes a quiet rewording of May’s high-profile pledge to employ a further 10,000 mental health professionals: committing to recruit only ‘up to’ 10,000 new staff.
What’s more, we also found clear inequalities in who accessed treatment. Those least likely to get an intervention were Black or young. While the party manifestos recognise the dire situation for child and adolescent mental health services, little is said about improving mental health services to better meet the needs of ethnic minorities.
More treatment, however, is only one way of tackling psychiatric distress in society. APMS data shows that depression and anxiety disorders are higher in people with the most debts, living in deprived neighbourhoods and in poor housing conditions, or who can’t find work. Workplace conditions and job security matter to mental health. So do relationships; both positive and negative. Of the risk factors we reviewed, few are linked more strongly with psychiatric distress than exposure to violence and abuse. Strong bonds between people – friends, family, and colleagues – are a powerful plank in resilience.
So, if you’re weighing up which party is most serious about mental health, do consider what they say about treatment and service provision, but then also look beyond at their wider social policies. Employment rights, tenant security, management of payday lenders, entitlement to parental leave, sufficiency of welfare support – all these can also be policies which can affect the mental health of the nation. And they may be just what the doctor ordered.
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