May’s mental health missions: rhetoric or reality?

Your friends are all pre-drinking for the night ahead. They’ve been playing ring of fire in the kitchen for the last half hour but you’re still in your room. Perhaps you’re studying your ceiling contemplating your worthlessness. Or pulling at your stomach in the mirror. Or having a panic attack on the floor. According to a recent NUS survey, the chances are that 78% of you have done so in the last year.

University can be a challenging environment for those with mental illnesses. The safety blanket of familiarity is pulled from under one’s feet, and a variety of social and work-related obstacles become apparent. It’s no wonder that over the last five years, 50% more students have sought assistance from university support services. So as more and more students develop mental health problems, how has the government responded?

The short answer is they haven’t. At least, not nearly enough as they have verbally promised. “I will take on … mental illness,” stated Theresa May in July. However, with no coherent strategy as of yet, May merely echoes the rhetoric of David Cameron in 2011: rhetoric- not results.

For example, despite the “no health without mental health” programme, mental health expenditure was cut by £35m in 2014. In 2015, Downing Street allegedly pressured NHS chief executive, Simon Stevens into halving his overall recommendation for additional NHS funding. Consequently, mental health departments suffered, including a lack of funding for flagship policies like improvements to waiting times.

Far from taking on mental illness, Conservative policy has consistently aggravated it. The austerity program has been condemned by many experts in the field, including leading mental health charity, Mind. In April, The Independent published a letter signed by hundreds of doctors describing austerity’s “profoundly disturbing effect” on the nation’s mental health. Moreover, when government policy was criticised by its own mental health champion Natasha Devon, she was sacked.

So, entering her premiership, Theresa May faces a decision: break the mould and take action – by investing in students and protecting those with mental illnesses – or leave them alone in their rooms.

Mrs Prime Minister, another student night is coming up. 78% of us are making preparations to manage our mental illnesses. That might be through breathing techniques, meditation or exercise. To our best ability, we’re taking action. Will you?

Bradley Young

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