World Mental Health Day has been observed on 10th October every year since 1992.
Introduced by the World Federation for Mental Health, this year’s theme is Mental Health for All: Greater Investment – Greater Access.
It’s widely acknowledged that mental health services are horrendously underfunded. Facilities, staff, treatment options; the system is lacking in so many ways. Honestly, I can’t in good conscience claim that the system is currently fit for purpose. Many people sit on waiting lists for months, even years, before they get the care they need… and those are the more fortunate ones.
In some cases, mental health care is completely inaccessible. Perhaps within a brief, one-time assessment, their case wasn’t deemed “serious enough”. Some people face barriers in making contact with a GP to get a referral in the first place. Maybe mental healthcare is offered, but the location or method of engagement is inaccessible. In certain situations, a particular type of treatment may only be offered privately – at astonishingly high costs.
So, I’m all too aware that there are a number of barriers to accessing mental health care, so I was glad to discover this year’s theme.
Of course, funding and accessibility issues in mental health care are nothing new, but as mentioned on the WFMH website, this theme is particularly apt for 2020. We’re hearing more and more about the increase in the number of people experiencing mental health difficulties as a direct or indirect result of COVID-19.
Mental health problems can arise for a multitude of reasons, including biological, psychological, and social circumstances or events. COVID-19 and the related lockdown have, for many, either caused or exacerbated existing mental health problems.
Some of the issues arising include increased stress/anxiety/panic, distress around change/loss/bereavement, and isolation-induced loneliness. For those who were already receiving care for their mental health, many services have been suspended, scaled back, or replaced with phone/video calls that some feel don’t meet their needs.
I’m not going to sit here and claim that the COVID-19 pandemic has any positives – it doesn’t. However, there are a couple of lessons that we can learn from this with regards to mental health.
1. Mental health problems are more common than you might think.
2. Our current mental health care system is underfunded and under-accessible.
The fact that these funding and accessibility issues have been highlighted by the COVID-19 situation is unfortunate. Many have struggled and continue to struggle with inadequate care when they need it the most. Many have been badly let down.
Nevertheless, this has highlighted the topic. As more people become aware of the inadequacies of the current system, more pressure has been put on the “higher-ups” to put their literal money where their mouth is.
The people in power love to preach about mental health awareness. They proclaim the catchy slogans – It’s Okay Not To Be Okay! Reach Out For Help! – yet consistently fail to make tangible efforts to improve mental health services.
It’s all well and good encouraging people to reach out; it is genuinely important to drive home this message. However, if you’re going to encourage people to reach out, you need to make sure that the services to whom they reach out are fit for purpose and equipped to receive them.
So what can we do?
Well, I think it’s important to clarify that I strongly believe that it is the government that needs to take action here. They control the funding and the NHS can only work with what they are allocated.
That being said, writing to our local MP may prove beneficial. I know there are organisations and individuals who advocate tirelessly for better funding and accessibility to mental health care, but the more we can amplify their voices, support their efforts, and put pressure on our elected officials to do what’s right, the faster I believe we will see real change.
Many of us aren’t in position to fight this bureaucratic battle; battling mental health problems is exhausting and overwhelming. But many of us are able to do so, and I believe it’s one of the most worthy battles to which we can contribute.
There are lots of “World Days” and “National Days” and “Awareness Days” in a year, and it’s impossible to recognise them all. However, I strongly believe that Mental Health for All is a human right and if a “World Day” of recognition can help to effect meaningful change (and I believe it can), then I’ll gladly throw in my two cents to help to highlight the cause.
Are you involved in pushing for funding and accessibility improvements in mental health care? Feel free to share your campaigns or methods in the comments below.
I’d also love to hear about your experiences with the mental health care system and how you feel it could be improved. If you would like to share your story in more detail, please click here to contact me and we can discuss guest-posting options.