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What is our new PM’s stance on mental health?

Whilst the appointment of a new Prime Minister (PM) may be a welcome change, understanding where their thoughts lie on sensitive but indispensable topics is of great importance.

CW: This article discusses topics of mental health, depression, and anxiety which could be distressing to some readers.

September 5th saw the appointment of now Conservative leader Liz Truss as our new PM. Following a heavily publicised race to the position, Truss beat out Rishi Sunak for the role and has since proposed new plans under her governance. Out of respect for the Queen’s passing, many proposals were put on hold as the country waited to hear just how Truss planned to follow through on her pledges.

As it stands, the government has paid little attention to the rising mental health crisis in the United Kingdom. Jo Bibby, Director of Health at the Health Foundation, announced that:

“new data from the Office for National Statistics, which reveals that depression rates have doubled since the COVID-19 pandemic began, forewarns of a growing mental health crisis in the UK. Particularly concerning is that those in more precarious economic positions or burdened by existing inequalities – young people, women, clinically vulnerable adults, disabled people and those living in the most deprived areas of England – have been disproportionately affected.”

Providing this comment in May of 2021, over a year ahead of the cost-of-living crisis we currently find ourselves in, one can only imagine that those in “precarious economic positions” are suffering at a greater rate. So what exactly is our new PM going to do?

Mental health in the United Kingdom

Mental health in the United Kingdom has a questionable past. As one of the first countries to introduce asylums as a form of treatment for the “mentally ill”, it was also one of the first to turn away from them. The turn of the 1960s saw a shift towards a British policy of deinstitutionalisation named “Care in the Community” wherein “physically and mentally disabled people” could be cared for in their homes as opposed to institutions.

Mental health care is now provided by the NHS and under the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) ruling. Due to the increasing demand for mental health services, further support is provided by private and voluntary sectors.

In a report by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, it was announced that “the number of referrals for specialist NHS mental health care reached a record high in England by the end of 2021.” “There were 4.3 million referrals, for conditions such as anxiety and depression, in 2021, NHS Digital says.” To put that into perspective, that is 15.6% of the UK’s population.

The government's history with mental health

Community care was not a new idea upon its introduction in the UK; however, under conservative PM Margaret Thatcher’s government, many advantages of domiciliary care were highlighted to promote the policy. As with everything with the government, financial consideration was at the forefront of decisions and opinions. “Care in the Community”’s main aim was to provide a more cost-effective way of helping people with “mental health problems”. Instead of looking into why mental health was on the rise and understanding more efficient ways to combat it, the government decided to cop out in compromise of cheaper options.

Not only do the government regularly prioritise money over genuine concern, but the lack of comment on such a topic speaks volumes. Dr Adrian James, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said

As the pressure on services continues to ratchet up, the silence from government continues to be of grave concern for the college, the wider mental health workforce and, most importantly, our patients… Many thousands of people will be left waiting far too long for the treatment they need unless the government wakes up to the crisis that is engulfing the country… We don't need warm words or empty commitments…We need a fully funded plan for mental-health services, backed by a long-term workforce plan, as the country comes to terms with the biggest hit to its mental health in generations.

Liz Truss and mental health

Upon Truss’ appointment, her new cabinet was announced wherein Thérèse Coffey was elected as Secretary of State for Health and Social Care as well as Deputy PM. However, the responsibilities of Ms Coffey are slightly misleading. According to the GOV.UK:

The Secretary of State is responsible for the work of the Department of Health and Social Care, including: overall financial control and oversight of NHS delivery and performance. oversight of social care policy.

Interestingly, under the new structure of the DHSC, there is no Minister of State for Care and Mental Health (MSCMH). In further support of this confusion, and upon analysing the ministerial role on GOV.UK, it can be noted that there are only previous holders recorded.

What’s more, the responsibilities of a MSCMH would lead on the following: “adult social care, health and care integration, dementia, disabilities and long-term conditions, NHS Continuing Healthcare, mental health, suicide prevention and crisis prevention, offender health, vulnerable groups, [and] bereavement.” Therefore, the lack of any professional persons in this role is extremely alarming.

Whilst the shift into the role of leader of the country comes as a great challenge, it is interesting to note that Truss’ has failed to comment on mental health entirely. Despite the Conservative leadership race spanning just shy of two months, Truss’ still has a long list of major issues she needs to address.

Correspondingly, it is understandable that the PM has an unbelievable amount of responsibility and thus appoints jobs to her respective cabinet members. Still, her silence on one of the UK’s most troubling issues says a great deal.

In a news report from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), the charity has called for Truss’ and her fellow government to “ensure the nation’s mental health is a priority”. Their report asks for Truss to take action to address the current mental health crisis in the short term as well as implement a longer-term plan. They further list five considerations they believe the PM and the government need to prioritise.

We can only hope that the new PM takes stock of the current situation the nation finds itself in, or rather has been coerced into, and implements a proactive plan.

Information correct as of 14/09/2022


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