Every school in East Devon is to be offered mental health first aid training to increase awareness around mental health and help to tackle the unacceptable stigma around the issue.
To support this initiative, new proposals will outline how mental health services for schools, universities and families can be improved, so that everyone in the community is supported, at every stage of life. The Government will also be reviewing children and adolescent mental health services in East Devon. This will help to identify what is already working and what can be improved, so more children and young people get the mental healthcare they need and deserve. And there will be an expert review into how we can improve mental wellbeing in the workplace so employees receive more care.
This new policy is part of the Prime Minister’s personal drive to define her vision outside of the Brexit agenda. And she genuinely feels passionate about the issue, having seen many of the problems first hand in the Home office. With an estimated one in four people suffering from a common mental disorder and three children in every classroom experiencing some kind of problem, ranging from eating disorders to self harm and social media induced anxiety, this is an issue that clearly needs to be tackled. Like she says it has been “dangerously disregarded”.
But there are omissions in this policy that we also need to think about. How about the mental incapacity of growing numbers of older people? More than 850,000 people in the UK now suffer from dementia, which affects one in six people over 80 and costs £11 billion a year. Dementia is now the biggest killer of the elderly; it also has a dramatic impact on the lives of the 670,000 people caring for others at home. They also can feel very depressed and alone. So although this is all welcome, there is still, in my opinion, narrowness in the remit; we need much more ambition and a wider social transformation. Which brings me back again to the thorny issue of social care. Alzheimer’s for example is not treated equally to cancer in terms of NHS funding, it falls under social care and is therefore means tested. And what about mental health in prisons? More than a quarter of women and 16 per cent of men receive treatment for a mental health problem before they even go into prison. As the Prime Minister will know, prison officers are not trained and equipped to deal with mental illness, meaning a jail is not a great place for sufferers to be held. Some prisoners would clearly be better off in secure mental hospitals.
So if we are going to tackle this problem then we can’t be selective about who has it and who doesn’t. The time has come for broad-brush social reform. Cross party and non-political.