Our campaign to draw focus on mental health and support mental health workers
On 10th October it was World Mental Health Day again. It rightly shines a light on an aspect of wellbeing that is too often overlooked and under-supported. But at HCL, we’re also conscious that mental health isn’t something we should be campaigning for on a single day a year.
Nearly half of all adults believe they have had a diagnosable mental health problem in their lifetime. It’s a staggering statistic, and one that needs to be addressed with more awareness of the problems sufferers face, and the great work mental health professionals do to help them.
Some of the stand-out trends in mental health
A few key themes are emerging when considering the mental health of the UK.
According to Mind, 1 in 4 people experience a mental health problem each year. And while numbers haven’t necessarily increased in recent years, people are finding it harder to cope with them because of the increased stress associated with jobs and money. The number of people who self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, however, is increasing rapidly across all demographics.
Meanwhile, it’s emerged that young women are far more likely to experience mental health problems than men (26% of 16 to 24-year-old women compared to 9% of men). There’s also been a significant increase in the number of sufferers over the age of 55.
And worryingly, two-thirds of people who receive employment support and allowances have reported common mental health problems that can quickly escalate into serious issues.
This snapshot suggests that all across society, the situation is worsening. And last year, an infamous leaked report from the government revealed that around 75% of people who needed psychiatric help aren’t actually getting it.
So is investment in mental health services increasing sufficiently to meet the growing demand?
Mental health funding is consistently falling short
Various studies have concluded that investment in mental health services over recent years has fallen, despite a need for significant increases.
Research by the BBC and Community Care in 2015 concluded that funding for NHS trusts to provide mental health services had fallen by a huge 8.25% over the previous 5 years – some £600 million in real terms. Meanwhile, figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that mental health investment within the social care sector had reduced between 2009 and 2014 from £1.2 billion to £1.1 billion.
And across the board, the news from mental health professionals, doctors, experts, researchers and key decision makers is that mental health needs more focus, and more cash. Indeed, earlier this year the British Medical Association branded the government’s approach to investment in mental health services ‘wholly unacceptable’.
Last year, the government did announce an extra £1 billion in funding to implement 24/7 mental health services and a wider transformation. But that currently remains a plan – and does little to address the immediate and short-term problems.
Unsurprisingly, the mental health workforce is overstretched
With funding problems, it comes as no surprise that there are recruitment problems too.
Broadly speaking, more mental health workers are now leaving than are joining. Being overworked is the most common problem, while many continue to suggest that the abolition of bursaries is the major recruitment issue.
Recent reports suggest that mental health workers have seen a drop in their real-term earnings. But at the same time, they are seeing their workloads and therefore stress levels increase.
We need more focus on mental health issues. And by the same token, we need more attention on our mental health workforce too.
A perfect storm. And unless we’re vigilant, it could get worse
Mental health problems are increasing throughout society, as are their most fatal consequences.
But with chronic under-investment and inevitable workforce shortages failing to meet the demand, there’s a feeling this problem could get a lot worse before it gets better.
The danger of this perfect storm is that mental health problems get ignored – becoming the second priority behind other healthcare services that many deem to be more pressing. And this danger must be avoided at all costs.
We all need to take mental health problems and symptoms as seriously as any other. In the same way that a consistent cough might encourage us to go to the doctors, persistent anxiety should do the same. We need to spot the signs; we need to push those in need to seek help, and we need to do more to support the mental health professionals we need now more than ever.
At HCL, we’re doing everything in our power to build awareness of mental health problems and to find and support the talented people we need to solve them.