It has long been suspected that the last 18 months will have led to a significant increase in mental health problems. During the early stages of the pandemic, evidence of this was largely anecdotal (time is always needed to gather and analyse evidence properly), but studies are now beginning to show that this is indeed the case.
For example, recent figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest that one in five adults feel they have suffered some form of depression during the pandemic (doubling from around one in ten previously). Among younger adults the figures are higher with 43% of young women saying they had experienced some form of depression in the first part of 2021. Yet the number of people being diagnosed with depression by a GP has gone down. There may be many reasons for this, but at the top of the list will be that large numbers of people have not been seeking help. Perhaps this is due to not wanting to feel like a burden on the NHS at a difficult time, not knowing what help is available or fearing that opening up might be too difficult or upsetting.
In 2018 when I was a treasury minister I helped to deliver the largest ever cash increase for our NHS (an extra £20 billion in real terms each year by 2023-24) and this included an additional £2.3 billion a year for mental health services. This has since helped more people than ever before to receive treatment and care for mental health conditions and has improved funding for services for children and young people. The Government is backing this up with legislation that will overhaul the Mental Health Act 1983 – it is incredible that the framework for how we deal with mental health issues is 38 years old, particularly when they are viewed and treated so differently now.
But this extra funding and the new legislation will not be enough. We need more people to feel comfortable talking about their mental health, more people to ask for and to accept help, and for more people to be understanding about what others are going through. We also need more parents to be alert to signs that their children may be experiencing mental health problems.
I discussed these challenges during a local meeting I had last week with Joel Sutton from Ashburton. Joel co-founded the Youth Mental Health Foundation – a non-profit organisation that supports young peoples’ mental health. They have visited 73 schools and delivered assemblies and workshops to over 35,000 young people in Devon. Joel’s daughter 17-year-old Jade delivers the assemblies and aims to destigmatise mental health problems and encourage young people to ask for help. In particular, the organisation helps parents of young people who self-harm to play a key role in their child’s recovery. We should all be grateful for their work.
To seek help with a mental health problem visit www.nhs.uk/mentalhealth or contact your local GP.