An equal footing for mental health
How we can place mental health and physical health on an equal footing
With students back at school after two months of shutdown and the roadmap dates pencilled in as we exit lockdown and reopen the economy, we are faced with the next big task in the aftermath of COVID-19. We have to deal with a mammoth mental health crisis, particularly amongst young people. After nearly a year of on and off restrictions and lockdowns, many of us young people have lost key experiences in our lives. That can be anything from starting university to just being surrounded by other students.
One of the many benefits of having a widely accessible education system is that the next generation can flourish socially and make experiences and friends that last for life and shape them as people. It is no secret young people need a lot of social and active exposure generally, not just in school but in after school activities, community events or just generally meeting with friends and doing various activities such as going to festivals and cinemas which keep us active and happy.
However, the last year and, undoubtedly, the next year to couple of years if not longer, we may continue to suffer social isolation and missing out on the unique and important experiences we need to grow as over a quarter of Further Education students are facing loneliness and nearly 60% having a decline in mental health. We also have to deal with the indirect psychological impacts of lockdown as well. This can range from financial strains and limited employment opportunities, or suffered being locked down in abusive situations.
The question is then, how do we tackle the mental health problems faced both by young people and the country as a whole? Pre-covid mental health services were already sub-par and in constant crisis management instead of actually offering solutions and help. While there is the option to turn to private support, and I am fortunate enough to have been able to do that, many people, including those very close to me, find it financially inaccessible. It’s frustrating to see them suffer so much and yet for there to be no accessible mental health support. We are so used to our physical illnesses being dealt with but our mental health system has not worked as well.
There are two elements to this, long term and short term solutions. In the short term we face a double task of not only dealing with the oncoming crisis and preventing the NHS getting overwhelmed, but expanding and rebuilding the broken and disjointed infrastructure we had pre-covid. This must be a community level solution that engages schools, community centre’s, already established youth support and other community hubs. Increasing the amount of mental health support in these settings will require appropriate funding for the NHS, schools and local government.
We cannot afford to cut corners and we must be brave enough to deal with the issue head on and openly, and neither can we afford to make the support short term and pull it away after a year, it must be a long term solution. If the community level solutions proves to be successful in the long term, they should remain to ensure every young person, from their first day of primary school to their last day of university, can access their mental health support as easily and quickly.
We also need to look at longer term solutions to tackle our mental health crisis. These could include:
- There is a lack of treatment availability for mental health issues, some areas with a lack of Specialist Community Perinatal Mental Health Services, our current system needs expansion.
- Increased treatment in schools such as pastoral care and safeguarding which will be checked with new Ofsted inspection rules.
- More support in the workplace and on apprenticeship.
- A wider available variety of treatment for mental health issues aside from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).
- Legalisation of drugs for medical uses such as the psychedelic medicine psilocybin and more wide availability for medical cannabis if there is a use for mental health treatment.
We must be brave and give it our all to tackle this mental health crisis if we truly want to build back better. It should be just as easy to access mental health support as it is to access physical health care. We can create a happier country with a healthy environment around mental health and we can begin to get to the root of so many current and oncoming issues.
About the author
Alumni Network Chair
Pushkin was previously on the executive of the Young Liberals and is now a member of the Labour Party. He has worked with candidates from multiple parties during election campaigns, mainly supporting them with his knowledge of digital campaigning.