Austerity Is Failing Children Seeking Mental Health Treatment and the Tories Should Be Ashamed

04/08/2017 14:03 BST | Updated 04/08/2017 14:03 BST

Mental health has been thrown back into headlines recently after a prominent judge has lambasted the 'disgraceful and utterly shaming lack of provision' in the UK for young people afflicted with mental health problems after being unable to find an appropriate CAMHS (Child Adolescent Mental Health Services) bed for a suicidal teen.

The issue of CAMHS beds available to mentally ill adolescents is a desperately important one that needs urgent addressing: there are less than 1,500 such beds in England, despite suicide now being the leading cause of death for people under 25. But the way the state is failing mentally ill young people goes far beyond the issue of beds available, crucial and desperate though it may be.

Not only are there not enough beds for young people in a mental health crisis; early intervention and on-going treatment provisions for young people are worsening by the day. CAMHS are currently turning away almost a quarter of children referred to them for treatment because they don't have the funding or staff to cope with the numbers of referrals they're getting. If you are lucky enough to get an appointment with CAMHS, you're facing an average wait time of 6 months for an initial appointment and 10 for the actual start of treatment.

If you're wondering how this can possibly be happening after years of empty promises to 'revolutionise' mental health and put it on parity with physical health, this is because only 0.7% of the NHS budget is being spent on child mental health and that budget is being cut further each year by ruthless austerity measures.

But let me be perfectly clear: the NHS aren't failing anyone, the government is. The NHS is underfunded and understaffed, and mental health workers alongside local authorities alike have been pleading with the government for urgent extra funding for years.

What they've had in return is a 6% cut to child mental health spending since the Conservatives came to power in 2010 - that amounts to a £50 million cut.

We've all heard a lot of grand promises from Theresa May and the Conservatives to 'revolutionise' how we deal with mental health during this year's election campaign, but the Tory Party have done nothing but break promises over mental health since they came to power.

Ministers can talk about their goals of prioritising mental health until they're blue in the face, but the reality mental health patients and workers alike face is much different: more than half of all councils in England have had no choice but to cut or freeze CAMHS budgets since 2010.

Is it really any surprise when we have a callous, ideologically driven government that is hell-bent on imposing austerity measures regardless of the human cost?

Any statement the Conservatives make on mental health pledges is a shameful lie. Despite promises during the election campaign to prioritise mental health, the Tory manifesto actually didn't contain a single pledge to increase funding for mental health services. Read it for yourself if you don't believe me.

Training for schoolteachers regarding mental health has been promised and is crucially needed, but this only goes so far when there is little chance of getting a speedy referral once a mental health condition is recognised because there isn't any money to pay for it.

Some will accuse me of politicising an issue, but to those I say this: mental health funding is an inherently political issue, and it is my right to politicise it. I have been receiving treatment for a mental health condition for almost a decade now, and I've received treatment under both CAMHS and, now, adult services. Somehow, I've received far more effective, speedy and dignified treatment as an adult than I did when I was subjected to long waits, ineffective treatment and dismissals as a child.

No government that is hell-bent on cutting public services can say with a clear conscience that they will do anything to lessen this crisis - just look at their track record. Mental health services in our country - one of the most advances economies in the world - are crumbling around us. We can't let this carry on.

For the first time since I can remember, I watched in amazed disbelief as mental health made headline six 'o'clock news: I felt emboldened by the issue finally being thrown into the spotlight, and grateful to Sir James Munby for gallantly doing it. I then felt furious when, without a hint of irony, newsreaders were telling the public of Theresa May's pledges on mental health.

Any claim the Tories make about improving mental health services are a shameful lie and we can't let them get away with it anymore. It won't be long before the issue of child mental health recedes conveniently back into the white noise of political sound bites. We must use the comments of Sir James Munby and the outrage they've stirred to ensure that this doesn't happen and put serious pressure on the government until something changes.