That a survey found that the majority of mental health social workers and charity managers believe the mental health of communities is declining is unsurprising – but action is undoubtedly needed to address this developing problem.
News last week that a survey had found that there is a growing crisis in mental wellbeing as communities struggle with a combination of hardships including benefit changes, unemployment and poor housing was sad, but not surprising.
It confirms what many in the sector have been saying for some time now, and also echoes previous research about increasing demand for mental health services.
Further reading: Mental health funding falls more than 2% in past 2 years
While the survey of mental health social workers and chief executives of local branches of Mind was small – fewer than 150 people took part – it is still significant because these are the people on the frontline who know better than anyone what is happening in our communities.
The survey report makes for stark reading. The headline figures include more than three quarters of social workers and some 90% of chief executives of local Minds saying that the mental health of people living in the communities where they work has worsened over the past 12 months.
Additionally, more than 90% of charity managers said they had seen an increase in the number of people accessing mental health services in the past year, with 73% dealing with some people who were seeking services for the first time. More than one in five social workers reported seeing more people in crisis.
Benefit cuts, unemployment and, to a lesser extent, poor housing were cited as the main factors driving up the increase in demand for mental health services. Yet the survey also found that it was becoming increasingly difficult for people to access those services.
All of this confirms that, despite the much-vaunted economic recovery, many people around the country are yet to experience any upturn in their personal fortunes. Indeed, it’s seems that life is as hard as ever for some, especially those who claim benefits or use social care services, where the cuts are starting to really bite and, as we all know, will continue to bite for some years to come.
It also makes the continuing cuts to mental health services seem all the more like a false economy. While cutting services might help commissioners – who are in an unenviable position – to balance the books in the short-term, in the longer term, it may well end up costing more as people who may have been helped by the services that have been lost end up in crisis, requiring more expensive care as a result.
The government may talk about ‘parity of esteem’ for mental and physical health, but it is still far from a reality. More cuts to mental health provision will only exacerbate the gap between services and should be avoided at all costs.
But beyond that, more funding is needed for services. While that would not be a universal panacea for the problems that exist in mental health, it could at least help services to remain open and institute some new ones to ensure people can access the right help when they need it – which, all too often, just doesn’t happen at the moment.