Is mental health still the Cinderella of history?
Opinion by Lea Milligan, Executive Director of MQ Mental Health Research
In a move that raises questions about transparency and accountability, the government has decided to publish its long-awaited report Strategic framework of main conditions in the middle of the parliamentary summer recess.
This strategic moment, when parliamentary scrutiny is significantly reduced, casts doubt on the government’s commitment to address the pressing mental health crisis facing our society.
By way of context, the mental health sector had been waiting a long time for the government to release the long-awaited 10-year mental health strategy. This would have been the government’s first mental health-focused strategy in over 12 years, the last being ‘There is no health without mental health’ published in 2011 by the coalition government of the time.
However, the industry was surprised when, in January this year, Health Secretary Steve Barclay announced that this much-needed strategy was being scrapped and replaced at some point in the future by a new “important conditions strategy.” “. .
While a holistic approach to reducing mortality is laudable, the fact is that years of underfunding for mental health means it lags far behind other physical conditions listed in the proposed strategy for top conditions, with no apparent acknowledgment by the government which will be necessary leveling up.
This lack of government recognition of the unique requirements for mental health services, separate from the listed physical health conditions, brings me back to the time of this new framework, released this week.
At a time when mental health problems are on the rise and affect people from all walks of life, it is essential that political decisions are taken with the utmost seriousness and transparency.
Mental health is not an issue that can afford to be discussed behind closed doors or hastily tackled without thorough scrutiny, especially when it is the latest in a list of conditions that are already light-years away in terms of funding, research and services.
Mental health care should not be subject to political maneuvering or opportune timing. It is an issue that directly impacts the well-being and lives of millions of people, and any policy that is introduced must reflect a commitment to comprehensive, evidence-based solutions.
In this new framework, one thing stands out above all else: an undue emphasis on individual responsibility and an underestimation of the systemic challenges that contribute to mental health problems.
While certain aspects of the plan are commendable, the narrative leans heavily on rhetoric of personal responsibility. This narrative, while intended to promote public health awareness and participation, risks undermining the complexity of mental health problems and the urgent need for a holistic and systems approach.
The frequent focus on “pushing” on personal factors as a solution risks oversimplifying the complex web of factors that contribute to mental health conditions. Mental health problems often arise from a combination of genetic predispositions, environmental triggers, and socioeconomic disparities. Placing the heavy burden on individuals (and employers, who seem to have the upper hand on the physical health front!) to prevent or manage mental health problems ignores the structural barriers many face, including unequal access to education , health care and employment opportunities. .
A recurring implication of individual responsibility is that those with severe mental illness could have taken more preventive measures. However, this narrative ignores the fact that mental illnesses such as psychosis are often caused by intricate neurobiological factors beyond the control of the individual. Blaming people for conditions rooted in biology perpetuates stigma and creates barriers to seeking professional help, which is vital to managing these conditions.
While it is important to engage employers in supporting mental health among your workforce, relying solely on them to address mental health challenges overlooks broader societal factors. Placing the responsibility on employers ignores the government’s role in creating policies that guarantee safe working conditions, equitable wages, and access to mental health resources for all citizens. The government’s duty goes beyond imposing this burden solely on employers.
The narrative of individual responsibility can discourage people from seeking help when they need it most. Those struggling with mental health issues may feel that they should have been able to prevent their condition, which can lead to guilt and isolation. This further exacerbates the social stigma surrounding mental health, making it difficult for people to access the support and treatment they need.