Stephen Parker, National Head of Service – Mental Health at Turning Point, discusses the importance of addressing inequality in mental health care.
This year’s theme for World Mental Health Day is ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’. At no time has this been as salient a topic as over the past 18 months. The pandemic has starkly exposed mental health inequalities that have been prevalent for years, but now it feels as if a breaking point is approaching.
It has always been the case that social determinants have been a key influence on mental health. A key way in which this manifests itself is by people’s financial position affecting this. Research has found that people with common mental disorders such as anxiety or depression receive annual average incomes of £8,400 less compared with those without any mental health issues.
People who are poor, with low levels of education, in precarious employment, living in overcrowded conditions are more likely to have mental health problems. Mental Health UK found that the recent universal credit cut has led to its mental health and money advice service seeing almost double the number of visits compared to the same time last year.
This is compounded by unequal access to mental health services. This is starkly seen when compared to access to physical health services, mental health problems account for 28% of the burden of disease but only 13% of NHS spending. Some people also face additional barriers to access as a result of their particular circumstances or characteristics. For example, research suggests uptake for mental health services is lower in some Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities because mental health is stigmatised or never talked about in the community.
These issues exist throughout society and in many different behaviours. It is estimated that around 30% of smokers in the UK have a mental health condition, and more than 40% of adults with a serious mental illness smoke.
Overall, these issues contribute to people with serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia dying, on average, 20 years earlier than the rest of the population.
At Turning Point, we have always been acutely aware of how the support we offer to some of the most marginalised people in society can help redress the balance of health inequalities. We are firmly focussed on the social determinants of health as the biggest influencers of long-term health outcomes.
Our mental health services work tirelessly to ensure that we are engaging groups who experience poorer mental health and have difficulty accessing services. With NHS services so under pressure at the moment due to increased awareness of mental health as well as COVID, we have opened a number of helplines. These allow people to reach out for support for themselves or get advice about how to get advice for a loved one. We have increased our offer to people in crisis as well, with more space available in our crisis houses and expanding the number of crisis cafes we run.
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