Unless the government invests in mental health facilities, sufferers will continue to live in unacceptable situations, says CHARLOTTE HUGHES
MENTAL health is a subject we often see in the news these days. Labels are often placed on individuals and groups of people without looking into the underlying reasons and causes.
Often the mention of having a mental health problem or illness scares people away and there is insufficient understanding among the public and the media about this complicated and emotive subject.
Of course, no-one chooses to have a mental health problem but the government’s austerity measures are punishing the already vulnerable, exacerbating the poor state of mental health in this country.
According to research by Cambridge University in 2016, women are twice as likely to experience anxiety than men, which clearly compounds the pressures of childcare and the search for work. This fact is not acknowledged or considered by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) or claimants’ advisers.
The DWP has created a one-size-fits-all system that is difficult to challenge.
I recently got speaking to a refugee who told me of his traumatic journey to England. He still suffers from flashbacks of this journey and the many traumas experienced in his home country.
His English is poor, due to in part to a lack of available English language classes, and therefore he finds it hard to access the help and advice that he needs.
According to a 2014 report by the World Health Organisation, suicide kills one person worldwide every 40 seconds. In Britain, suicide is now the biggest killer of men under 45 years of age.
A Samaritans report from the same year says that unemployed people are “two to three times more likely to die by suicide than those in work and suicide increases during economic recession.”
Not being in a position to work, or failing to find work, is strongly associated with suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and self-harm.
This is higher in working-age adults and higher for men.
Research by the Mental Health Foundation found that “two thirds of people in receipt of employment and support allowance (ESA) had thought about ending their life, almost half had made a suicide attempt and a third reported self-harming.”
Vulnerable people are being forced to attend constant medical assessments where they must prove they are disabled or ill, which can cause extreme stress. Some decide they can no longer endure living like this and so choose to end their lives.
Social inequalities are also strongly linked to mental health inequalities.
Children and adults living in the poorest fifth of households are two to three times more likely to develop mental health problems than those in the richest fifth.
Among high earners this situation may not be obvious, but for the poor it is a daily reality. Inequality is visible everywhere on television and in newspapers.
Recently David and Samantha Cameron were reported to have a sign in their country home reading: “Calm down dear, it’s only a recession.” For them, the 2007-8 financial crisis and the Tory Party’s disastrous austerity measures are just a joke, while thousands of working and unemployed people and their families are forced to use foodbanks to survive.
People with mental health problems are more likely to be homeless and are also more likely to live in areas of high social deprivation, have fewer qualifications and are less able to secure employment.
I regularly speak to many homeless people and most of them have told me that they became homeless after being sanctioned, and having an undiagnosed mental health problem.
Many of them have asked for help but have been turned away and left to fend for themselves on the streets.
Thankfully the voluntary teams that help the homeless in most towns in the country provide some support, such as food, tents and bedding. Many can also offer help with the underlying issues.
Work that is low-paid, insecure or poses health risks can also be damaging to mental health. Jobs that offer as little as 16 hours’ contracted work a week also add to this instability.
It’s unethical to offer someone only a few hours’ work a week. An employee won’t feel valued in any way and the company certainly won’t have happy employees. This results in more and more people suffering from stress-related illnesses and depression, which in turn is putting increasing pressure on the NHS, voluntary organisations and foodbanks.
People living with mental health problems experience stigma and discrimination; on top of this their basic needs are being denied to them by a Conservative government which tries to convince the public that it is “compassionate” and “caring.”
It’s unacceptable that the most vulnerable people in society have to suffer like this and they will continue to do so unless investment is made in good mental health facilities that provide the support required.
Further cuts to NHS budgets will have a significant and damaging effect. However, as we know, prevention is far better than cure.