Getting serious about mental health

Why we need to tackle the growing mental health crisis within the UK

At the age of 17 I had left home; my future was uncertain and my mental health was dire. After being enlisted as a vulnerable child by social services I moved in for the half term to my ex’s house while independent accommodation was negotiated for me so I could continue my education on the other side of the country. My GP referred me to CAMHS with urgency due to my vulnerable status who further referred me. After a series of questions, I was told I exhibited signs of moderate-severe depression and moderate anxiety.

I was told a two week wait would ensue. six months of patiently waiting and severely struggling later and I was phoned by CAMHS to be told they didn’t have me on record.

At that point I was too close to 18 to actually enrol, and thus had to move onto adult MH support where I was told waiting lists were vast and growing. After finding the process too difficult and inefficient to get the support I felt I needed, I forked out £45 of my own money from my part time job every week to afford support.

It was not only expensive but I felt deflated. It was like I had to fight an entire, faceless system intent on giving me the bare minimum support to get me by but not help me so it could consider itself ‘cost efficient’. When you’re struggling and need the system the most, the last thing you need is to have to convince a system of what support you need when you feel you can barely look after yourself properly, let alone advocate for yourself. I was fortunate to have supportive people around me willing to help me advocate but I only received support eight months after the first GP appointment asking for urgent help. If that’s urgent then my stomach retches at what non-urgent support looks like.

CAMHS is past breaking point. It’s a poorly-incentivised, bureaucratic, underfunded mess. Recent analysis from STEM4 has brought to light that young people in urgent need of help are denied any support as CAMHS struggles to cope. On top of this, those who are neurodivergent and in need of support are failed as waiting times for autistic young people and those with ADHD are waiting unacceptably long times for the appropriate support. While CAMHS fails to deal with this mental health pandemic adequately, educators feel ill equipped to help as the scale of this crisis becomes less and less manageable by the day.

If we do not deal with this crisis here and now, we risk seeing this spiral out of control and become very costly, not only to the exchequer but to the wellbeing of the country. This is why I have put together a set of short-term policies to be adopted by the government.

The government needs to offer greater funding and support for ‘flexy’ learning to ensure those who need sick days off school for mental health reasons or are in inpatient care do not fall and get left behind. Otherwise, we will needlessly maintain an outdated system of needing to catch up if you’re not physically present. We also need support hubs within schools across the country to not only offer closer to home referrals but to ensure schools work directly with mental health authorities to support student’s mental health requirements. This will support students’ growth in their studies, how they develop as a person and fostering a mental health first environment in education to truly unlock the full potential of every child across the country.

To further help every individual young person to access support which works for them we need to drop the one size fits all approach of a lack of options outside of CBT and not moving beyond commercial MH related medicines by expanding research into and capacity to hold other forms of therapy and offer medicines that may currently be deemed illegal under UK drug laws to ensure we can offer as many solutions as possible so that individuals can find what’s right for them and really flourish with the right support.

My plan also calls for immediate funding to be opened up for suicide and eating disorder hotlines and CAMHS. This will help to slash waiting times on neurodivergent assessments and general waiting lists. We want to see young people receiving the support they need as soon as they can have it and before the situation worsens and we let them down. To tackle this crisis and prevent it from spiralling out of control any further the government needs to ditch the ‘how low can we go’ approach to funding and be willing to give as much as it takes in financing to ensure we can regain control of the mental health crisis and rescue those we have so far failed.

Finally, we are calling for a review into how the NHS mental health systems across the UK can be integrated and streamlined into one system so that patient records are easier to access and share with appropriate authorities and referrals are smoother and more coordinated. By lessening the heavy burden of bureaucracy which weighs the mental health system down we will lift this weight and allow the system to function efficiently and effectively.

All these measures together plus more will allow for the government to begin to implement and mental health approach fit for the 21st century and truly level up the healthcare system in the U.K. however these must be followed up with meaningful, comprehensive systematic reforms which aim to integrate communication between schools, mental health authorities and other child support related agencies, streamline and simplify the system and offer the appropriate level of funding and alternatives to focus on prevention rather than cure.

About the author

Pushkin Defyer

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.