Today is World Mental Health Day, and for this year's theme, the World Health Organisation has chosen Mental Health for All – a call for increased investment in mental health and wellbeing. It comes at a time when internationally, we have experienced vast amounts of change, illness, stress and deaths, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. These changes have resulted in a mental health crisis. Many people are feeling the strain of lost employment, lost opportunities in schools, colleges, and universities. Many people, young and old, are struggling with isolation, loneliness, homelessness, financial pressures, pressures at work, and fraught relationships with friends, partners and families.
Mental health services in the UK are already over-stretched, with mental health inequalities evident even before the pandemic. The Marmot Review – Ten Years on, published in February this year, highlighted the widening health inequalities in our communities. The gap between those experiencing health inequalities and those with better health has been worsening since the first Marmot Review published in 2010 and is significantly worse than many of our European neighbours. This was across a number of health indicators, including mental health. The report highlighted:
- Children living in poverty are three times more likely to experience mental health problems than children who are not poor. One in four adolescents living in cold housing is at risk of multiple mental health problems compared to one in twenty living in warm accommodation.
- Adverse childhood experiences, which increase with poverty, contribute to mental illness. The WHO estimates that 30% of adult mental health issues could be attributed to adverse childhood experiences.
- A 2017 IPPR report found that children excluded from school were ten times more likely to experience mental health problems.
- In 2019, nine out of ten (92%) of NHS mental health trusts in England stated benefit changes had increased the number of people with anxiety, depression and other conditions and increased demand on mental health services. 45% of adults struggling with debt also have a mental health issue.
With the impact of the pandemic, these stark statistics have worsened. Existing inequalities have been exacerbated by the reduction in services and systemic bias in over-stretched support systems. The UN has warned that we are now facing a mental health crisis as a result of the pandemic and are calling on countries to respond.
Last year, METRO supported over 1500 adults and over 500 children and young people with their mental health, through counselling services, youth services and our mental health drop-in. This month, we have been awarded a grant from Children in Need to increase the number of LGBTQ+ children and young people we support, an increase that is in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which has seen young people even more isolated, stressed and anxious than before.
At METRO, we have seen a significant increase in referrals during COVID-19, mostly because of the loss of regular public services and many children and young people struggling with isolation due to school closures. Many young people have had counselling in schools abruptly halted, leaving them isolated and without support. Also, the various local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) we work with have reported they have been under pressure during this time and had to reduce the support that they can offer. For example, we have had parents ringing us to ask for support, as CAMHS have been unavailable to help them.
We are committed to continuing to support children, young people and adults in the areas in which we work. But as the Marmot Review and other reports demonstrate, causes of mental ill-health are complex and demand a cohesive strategy and response which addresses the multiple social and economic factors that affect our mental health. The Government must act now to avoid the growing mental health crisis from increasingly affecting our communities.