Five years ago the Schizophrenia Commission published a ground-breaking report called Schizophrenia - The Abandoned Illness.
It revealed a complex and dysfunctional system that could not deliver quality treatment or support for people with schizophrenia with shocking consequences, including the fact that people with schizophrenia on average die up to 20 years earlier than those without, largely down to avoidable health complications. The report also set out a series of practical recommendations to change this.
A lot has changed since then. The mental health landscape is unrecognisable in some ways but unfortunately the report’s assessment will still be familiar to many people living with schizophrenia.
On the plus side, mental illness is now prominent in the public consciousness and on the political agenda in a way that was almost unthinkable five years ago.
This has begun to lead to positive changes. The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health was put into place in 2016. As a roadmap to reforming the mental health system it has the potential to make a real difference to the level and quality of treatment people living with mental illness can get.
The Government has also committed to a review of the Mental Health Act, which has not seen meaningful change in 20 years. This gives us opportunity to put rights and choice into a piece of legislation, which has been consistently failing people when they have been at their most vulnerable.
Not all the changes have been positive however and the impact of austerity has been felt deeply over the last few years. Across the NHS, care teams are struggling with reduced capacity and increasing demand.
And in key areas outlined in the report five years ago, we are still dramatically behind where we need to be.
Inequality is still rife across the system. People from Black and Minority Ethnic communities are four times more likely to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act, and when in mental health units, black men are three times more likely to be restrained.
In employment, 300,000 people with a long term mental health problem lose their jobs each year and a recent Rethink Mental Illness survey showed that 83% of people who have hiring responsibilities would worry that someone with severe mental illness wouldn’t be able to cope with the demands of the job.
Attitudes to mental illness have improved, in part thanks to Time to Change the anti-stigma campaign we have run with Mind for the past 10 years, but schizophrenia remains stubbornly misunderstood.
Last year we found that 50% of people mistakenly think that schizophrenia means you have a ‘split’ personality while 26% believe that schizophrenia definitely makes you violent. This all feeds into a health system and a society that consistently keeps schizophrenia at arms length.
These problems don’t come with easy answers. But we have seen ideas and pilot schemes that we know can make a difference, many of which we have led on ourselves; for example we run our Recovery and Outcomes programme which provides support to people living in secure care to work towards recovery and influence their own treatment.
What we need to see now is buy in from all levels of Government and a consistent push to make sure we are not saying the same things in another five years.
Things are changing, but until everyone affected by mental illness is able to rely on our mental health system for care, support and respect we will have a long way to go.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org