Tackle mental health to ease burden on services

Click HERE to read my latest column in the Wiltshire Gazette & Herald.

Michelle Donelan Column Wiltshire Gazette & Herald

The importance of good mental health cannot be overstated. In November I spoke to BBC Wiltshire and called for significantly more investment to support those with mental health problems. I also wrote a letter to the Chancellor calling for more money for mental health services to bring them more into line with the funding levels received for physical health.

Tackling the issues surrounding mental health is vital for individuals and for society as a whole. One in four of us are expected to develop a problem such as a form of depression or anxiety this year alone, and suicide is now the leading cause of death for men under 50. Each year mental health problems cost the UK economy over £1 billion. More importantly though, the true cost is in the lives that it affects and, all too often, tragically takes.

Too many people are suffering alone, afraid to speak out because there remains a stigma around mental health, but it needn’t be so. Mental illness isn’t contagious. We must do more to smash the stigma around it.

When we are free of depression, anxiety, excessive stress, worry, addictions and other psychological problems, we are far abler to live our lives to the fullest. We become more integrated in our communities, are more productive at work and get far greater enjoyment from our social lives.

Further, for people who receive appropriate mental health care, their use of medical services declines. People with untreated mental health problems visit a doctor twice as often as those who receive mental health care.

Mental health problems can have far reaching effects, touching on all aspects of life and harming others around them. Excessive anxiety and stress can contribute to physical problems such as heart disease, ulcers and colitis. Moreover, anxiety and stress can reduce the strength of the immune system, making people more vulnerable to conditions ranging from the common cold to cancer. Psychological problems also increase the likelihood that people will make poor behavioural choices which can contribute to medical problems. Smoking, excessive alcohol or drug use, poor eating habits, and reckless behaviour can all result in severe physical problems and the need for medical services.

It is for these reasons that in November I demanded the Government took more action. I was therefore thrilled with the Prime Minister’s announcement this week that an additional £1 billion is to be spent on improving mental health care. This money will initially be targeted at supporting new mums and the first ever waiting time targets for teenagers with eating disorders will be introduced. Nearly £250 million will be used for mental health services in hospital emergency departments and more than £400 million to enable 24/7 treatment in communities as a safe and effective alternative to hospitalisation.

I would like the Government to go further. I have called on the Government to make more funding available for mental health charities such as Wiltshire Mind, but don’t get me wrong, £1billion is a fantastic start.

You can hear my interview with BBC Radio Wiltshire on my website michelledonelan.com and, as always, if you have any questions or concerns please do email me on michelle.donelan.mp@parliament.uk or call (01249) 704465.