This week our country faces a formative moment in politics. It is one of the most important moments that, as a politically aware adult with assured beliefs and values, I have witnessed.
This week also happens to mark my six month membership of the Talking Therapies Waiting List Club.
‘How could the two things possibly be linked?’, I hear you cry.
I try to avoid party politics on my blog as it is not my plan to alienate when trying to provoke thought and discussion about mental health. However, without being too explicit, I want to urge anyone who is reading this to consider very carefully about the values to which they are going to lend their support on Thursday 12th December at the ballot box, and the implications of their vote for mental health services.
The NHS is one of the greatest institutions in our country. I work within it and I have used its services numerous times – for simple infections and illnesses, dislocations, strains and tears, for a life threatening condition which required critical care, to give birth, to get to hospital by ambulance, and for support with my mental health. Parity of esteem between physical and mental health has long been an issue within services. However, we now seem to be facing not only a vastly underfunded NHS as a whole, within which mental health directorates are viewed as the poor cousin of physical health, but the potential dissemination of the whole institution. What would that mean for people with mental health problems?
Just consider the implications of being asked to pay £1000 if you needed to call an ambulance because you had chest pains, or if you were charged £150 for your consultation at an outpatient clinic to monitor your lung disease. The chances are, however difficult it was, you would try to find the money for these issues through insurance premiums or savings or borrowing, because without intervention you might die. Then consider how likely it might be that if you were experiencing a period of mania, anxiety or an eating disorder you would be equally prepared to try and find the money to ensure that your poor health is treated. Is it likely that you would just struggle on and try to manage? Many people with mental health problems are as guilty as wider society in viewing their own mental health as less important than their physical health. I know that from a personal perspective how difficult it is to ask for help with mental illness – having to pay for support would introduce another absolutely huge barrier. Further to this, we know that mental health conditions, poverty and social deprivation are linked. We also know that poor physical health can lead to poor mental health, and vice versa. How will our most vulnerable members of society maintain their health in a system which does not offer free care at the point of access? The answer is clear. They won’t.
It’s not just about the NHS – social care is of equal importance in supporting people with holistic well-being. Just like physical health and mental health, health needs and social needs are inextricably linked and can very quickly become a downward spiral of deterioration as their effects knock into one another. I see directly the effects of austerity every day at work, both in a hospital setting and within people’s own homes, and it is truly heartbreaking. It really is life and death, and it makes me feel sad, angry and powerless.
It is far from ideal that I have been on a waiting list for therapy for six months. However, I have a strong support network, insight into my mental health and an awareness of what I need to do to help myself in the meantime. I also have the knowledge that at some point – even if it is in another six months – I will receive free, professional therapy to help me unpick more of what goes on in my mind. I am not in crisis and I am able to wait. But what about those who can’t wait? In the past I have been desperate for support and have had to wait and it has been agonising, for me and my husband. I know that there will be thousands of people across the country feeling that desperation right now. I find that a very upsetting thought.
The NHS and social care are not failing. They are coping amazingly well following ten years of cuts and under-funding. But this has to change. Health and social care needs to be valued and properly funded to be able to promote and protect the mental and physical well-being of every single person in this country, regardless of what they can or cannot afford. We cannot allow a culture to prevail where it is acceptable to overlook the needs of our fellow humans as long as ‘we’re alright Jack’, and where money is valued over people.
Please vote, and please vote carefully.