It is deeply concerning that fresh statistics have confirmed a rise in the number of people being admitted to hospital for intentional self-harm.
These numbers lay bare the failure of Conservative ministers to tackle the nation’s mental health crisis. We should demand better. This must be a wake-up call.
Despite the Prime Minister’s warm words about “tackling the injustice of mental illness” being an “absolute priority”, the evidence seems to show that the country is going in the wrong direction.
Of course, there will be a deeply personal struggle underlying each case of self-harm. Self-harm is usually a way of coping with or expressing overwhelming emotional distress. The causes are complex, and it is not entirely clear why we are witnessing this alarming increase. What is clear, however, is that the Government’s response to this significant challenge is wholly inadequate.
We should not forget that, for many people, the fact that they are receiving care in hospital, indicates that there has been a failure to identify that they are suffering, or to provide them with support, much earlier.
If Ministers were serious about tackling the entrenched injustice of inadequate access to support for those experiencing mental ill health or mental distress, they would see the urgency to act now. Yet mental health remains under-resourced and too often loses out as a result of impossible funding pressures.
Investing in prevention and better mental health support in the community must be an absolute priority. And for children, who account for 1,690 of the self-harm cases treated, the reduction of mental health support in many schools as a result of cuts has likely played a part in limiting early intervention.
Research by the Children’s Society, published this summer, also showed that, in a survey of 14-year-olds, a shocking 22% of girls and 9% of boys had self-harmed in the last year. We cannot underestimate how widespread and serious an issue this is.
Some of those who self-harm might also be at risk of suicidal thoughts. That’s why it’s so important that every person admitted to A&E as a result of self-harm is supposed to have a psycho-social assessment. Yet that does not always happen. Across the country, we must demand of our local hospitals that this must always happen.
It is often said by mental health campaigners that children and young people’s mental health is the ‘Cinderella of the Cinderella services’. Even in the context of the chronically under resourced mental health services, services for children and young people are often neglected most of all. I was horrified to be told by a constituent recently that her two sons, aged 8 and 10, had been on a waiting list for the lowest level of mental health support for over a year. What are we doing to our children, neglecting their needs in this way?
The neglect of children’s mental health which is widely acknowledged by staff and campaigners in the mental health sector, and one which is all too evident to the families that rely on these services.
It says it all, that while 75 per cent of mental health conditions develop before the age of 18, just 0.6 per cent of the NHS budget is spent on mental health care for children and young people.
There can be no doubt that we need a new and robust strategy for improving children and young people’s mental health care.
As a Liberal Democrat Minister in the Coalition, I worked alongside Nick Clegg to secure a commitment for an extra £1.25bn to be invested in children’s mental health. But sadly, the current Conservative Government has failed to fully stick to that commitment. We published a blueprint for how services needed to change - but there has been a failure to drive those changes through.
We must also remember that what the NHS provides is only one part of the picture. Community care and early intervention equally must be improved and better resourced.
The Government’s Green Paper includes important proposals to provide better support for children in schools but the timescale for trialling these new approaches are far too timid given the scale of the challenge faced by families across the country. And the Green Paper is almost silent on vital early years support and the need to provide effective support for children who face all sorts of adversity - which so often leads to mental ill health and mental distress.
It is also time that access to Children and Young People’s Mental Health Services extends to age 25, rather than 18 or 16, so nobody falls though the gaps.
And of course, something we can all do, is tackle the stigma which still exists around mental health in our homes, in our workplaces, and our schools.
Mental ill-health is perhaps much more common than many of us realise - approximately 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Yet it is still something which many people struggle to talk about. Perhaps because we fear the people around us will not understand, or that it will impact our relationships or our careers.
While it is therefore vital that the NHS and community services are properly resourced by the Government, we all have a job to do to ensure the importance of mental health is understood.
For confidential support, call Samaritans freephone on 116 123.