You may be aware that today the Prime Minister, Theresa May, unveiled her plans to create a “shared society”, during which she highlighted the importance of the “dangerously disregarded” area of mental health. Mrs May has outlined her intention to offer further mental health training for teachers, with better links between schools and the NHS, and with information provided for employers to help reduce stigma. She is also instructing the Care Quality Commission to launch a review into children’s and young people’s mental health services.
While I’m thrilled to hear the Prime Minister talking so directly about mental health, and I am grateful for any positive change, this all seems a little short sighted. The NHS is in crisis, demonstrated not least by the prevalence of mental health illness in our country, with rates of suicide, self-harm, depression and anxiety all on the increase. Rates are rising across the board; for children, for young people and for adults.
Every mention of mental health in recent times has been related to children and young people. Yes, this is a very important area – we do need to look at creating a healthier and happier next generation. However, what about the many, many thousands of adults who struggle? Why are we not reviewing adult mental health services as well? Why are we overlooking the personal, social and economic devastation caused by vast gaps and unavailability of appropriate mental health care? Have we written off those people – simply thinking we’ll do it better next time?
So, while I applauded Mrs May’s intentions, I feel deeply let down by the constant oversight of the type of clients I work with every day.
Furthermore, I wonder how actionable and realistic her proposals are. I regularly work with schools; both running training and offering counselling to teachers. What I hear is that teachers are often highly overworked; starting their work day at 8am and still marking assignments and preparing class handouts at midnight. To give them further training in mental health, while it sounds like a good idea, firmly implies that our children’s mental health is part of their job. These are professionals, trained to educate, not to counsel.
I very strongly believe that mental wellbeing would be a massively positive addition to the school curriculum – showing, and making time for fostering this emotionally healthier and happier next generation of which I speak. Teaching children to be emotionally literate and looking at the skills we need to cope with life – which stretch far beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. However, as long as teachers are not given time, space and the skills to do this, we are simply piling another job onto their already overflowing desks. They may attend this training that Mrs May wants to make available – but what will they then do with it? What difference will it make?
I hope that I’m wrong. I hope that our Prime Minister surprises me, I hope that real change happens and that this is just the beginning. I hope that the prevalence of mental illnesses reduces, and that those who struggle can access the care they need. Please Mrs May – prove me wrong!