Fred Kearey is a Conservative activist and teaching volunteer.
Mental healthcare an area which needs someone with a reforming zeal to drive change and help young people, parents, schools, and mental health care professionals to tackle the many challenges posed.
With attitudes towards mental health finally shifting towards parity with physical health, the time for action is now. It will need a strong political will to take the best that other systems have to offer and build our own mental healthcare system into a well-run service,
Facing up to the challenge will require: a complete cultural shift among the psychiatry profession; additional resources; further breaking down of lingering stigmas; the demolition or at least sale of Victorian hospitals; and tackling reluctance to diagnose conditions such as schizophrenia and psychosis.
Additionally, anecdotal evidence from young people suggests that CAMHS (Children’s Adolescent Mental Health Services), a key part of that early intervention phase, is chronically under-resourced and in effect runs as a lottery.
Additional resources could be found for the mental healthcare system through the complete scrapping of all foreign aid, and redirecting a portion of the £13 billion budget to the mental health section of the NHS. Then we might finally be able to provide vulnerable people, especially young people, with the support and care they need to lead productive, independent lives.
Those that suffer from poor mental health face significant disadvantages in employment, either as a direct result of their condition or due to the side-effects of medication.
Such challenges include: nervous bodily reactions due to effects of poor medications and sedation; poor joint movement; and a lack of confidence that some medications can bring to a highly debilitating, indeed almost crippling, level.
Mental health problems can also hinder educational attainment. Early diagnosis, and effective treatment through the best medication possible twinned with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), can make a very real difference to someone and their future life chances.
It is therefore welcome that the public debate about mental health care is beginning and is long overdue.
Mental healthcare has been dubbed the ‘Cinderella service’, due to the lack of parity of esteem with other sections of NHS care. This has led to less funding, which in turn means fewer psychologists, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses and a greatly reduced standard of care for patients.
Ending this second-class status is fundamentally about breaking down barriers and old stigmas, particularly for those who have suffered from episodes of misunderstood conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar, psychosis, depression and anxiety (many of which can feed into one another).
Making sure that patients receive the right medication and support at the right time is essential to getting them on the road to recovery, and from there to academic attainment and secure employment. For some, this might involve returning to education as a mature student once their situation has improved.
This also involves taking a long, hard look at the care environments we provide for mental health patients. Too often they resemble fortresses, which is wholly inappropriate for people in a vulnerable mental state. The architecture of mental health facilities ought to be geared towards making life within them as pleasant and normal-seeming as possible, in order to help residents transition back to outside life.
There are many factors to consider when improving mental health care, of which the most pressing is the lack of resources, and previous lack of political will to affect change and reform with the system. The problem of patients being misdiagnosed and put on the incorrect medication is another issue that needs to be tackled head on.
We should see what we can learn from other national systems, and be innovative about organisation and our allocation of funds to ensure minimal wastage and effective, national provision of mental health care. Perhaps there might even be a minister dedicated to overseeing this new programme, to demonstrate that it really is a priority for the Prime Minister.