On Wednesday, the coalition announced concrete plans to improve mental health treatment and end long-standing inequalities between physical and mental health by 2020. Announced by Nick Clegg during the annual Lib Dem party conference, this 5-year plan marks a huge progression in the treatment of common conditions such as depression and anxiety.
For the first time, a national maximum waiting time will be introduced for mental health treatment. Three-quarters of patients with conditions like depression are to receive therapy within six weeks and 95% within 18 weeks.
By 2016, half of people suffering a first episode of psychosis will be treated after a maximum wait of two weeks with the early intervention service. Crucially, the move puts this debilitating illness on a par with cancer in the NHS.
Although some of the aims regarding waiting times are fairly easy to attain, the great success of this announcement is in the message it sends out. Until now, mental health services were seen as a ‘Cinderella’ issue- one that could be difficult to define and measure. To be clear, these are not empty manifesto pledges but plans with real policy implications that effectively remove the long-standing disparity between physical and mental health in our country.
Nick Clegg also went on to condemn the “outrageous discrimination” surrounding mental illness and how it can prevent people from seeking help. For example, the biggest killer of men between 20 and 49 is suicide and it’s perpetuated by the gendered shame associated with getting help.
Over the next two years the coalition, in agreement with the Conservatives, will invest £120 million towards mental health provision, £40 million of which will be received this year and £80 million over 2015/16.
Of course, you would be forgiven for being wildly sceptical of these plans given Clegg’s track record on promises. This government has also been responsible for devastating cuts to mental health trusts, with budgets falling by 2.3% between 2011/12 and 2013/14. Yorkshire was one of the first areas to be hit by government cuts after Headingley’s Leeds Crisis Centre, a council-led mental health service, was closed in 2011. Community mental health teams have seen referrals rise by 16% in recent years and yet the system is severely underfunded. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has warned that mental health services are in crisis mode.
With this in mind, these landmark plans come as welcome relief to campaigners and service providers alike, many of whom have been arguing for equality with physical health for many years. Let’s hope that the plans are implemented and that our government continues to invest in those who are suffering mental health issues.
For anyone at Leeds who needs help, the Mind Matters Society offers peer-support through its Support Group every Tuesday evening and a Welfare Hour every Monday evening, both in Little LUU House. Students across campus will be campaigning throughout the year for a better understanding of mental health and will be holding fundraisers for those charities which are currently so overstretched.