Politicians talk about "parity of esteem"—but stories like Jamie's show more needs to be done to tackle mental healthby Mary Reader / October 25, 2018 / Leave a comment
When Jamie was sexually assaulted by boys at his school at the age of 15, his life spun out of control. He found it difficult to speak, eat, or sleep. When he did manage,he had aggressive and traumatic dreams.
Yet when Jamie was referred to specialist Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) he was turned away on grounds that his symptoms were not severe enough.
Jamie’s experience wasn’t a one-off. A staggering 55,800 children experiencing self-harm or abuse were turned away this year by specialist mental health services due to lack of capacity.
Since the majority of these children are not getting support, they often grow up to suffer from more severe mental health conditions. Half of all the adults experiencing poor mental health started experiencing symptoms by the age of 14, and three-quarters by the age of 24.
Yet this comes at a time where there has been a concerted effort—by the government and society in general—to break down the stigma surrounding mental health and to treat it with the same respect and consideration enjoyed by physical health.
This notion, of “parity of esteem”—valuing mental health as much as physical health—has become increasingly popular with politicians. Last year, Theresa May rightly described the lack of it as a “burning injustice.”
The ambition of parity of esteem is undoubtedly an honourable one. But all too often, the principle of parity has failed to translate from words into action.
What “parity of esteem” really means
Even if May’s government delivers what it has promised, a staggering 65 percent of young people with mental health conditions will go untreated.
Meanwhile, those with severe mental health conditions live on average 15-20 years less than those without.
This raises the question: what does parity of esteem really mean and what should we be holding politicians accountable for?
In 2017, Jeremy Hunt claimed that 85 per cent of the country was achieving parity of esteem. But when you dig into the numbers, what he really means is that spending for mental health is increasing at a faster rate than the overall increase in health spending for each local area.
This is undoubtedly good news. But with the majority of people still not receiving treatment, it can hardly be considered true parity of esteem.
It is therefore time to put flesh on the bones of the concept and to hold politicians accountable for delivering on it.
Parity should mean an equal chance of a long and fulfilling life for mental health patients. It should mean that there is equal access to care for people with mental health conditions. It should mean that care is of the same quality as it is for people with physical health conditions.
This is what politicians must commit to—not just in theory, but in practice.
How the government can take action
A new report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) sets out a plan for action.
It finds that mental health spending in the NHS will need to double from £12bn to £24bn over the next decade. This funding should help ensure that everyone can access care when they need it most.
It should continue the shift of care for people with severe mental health conditions out of hospital and into the community.
And, it should focus on early intervention: we can stop mental health conditions deteriorating but we need to support people early not wait for crisis point.
Funding mental health services properly is not optional. It is a basic necessity in an age where mental health is one of the greatest challenges we face.
Talk is cheap—it is action that will determine whether patients like Jamie receive the support and care they need when they need it most. With the Autumn Budget and NHS Long Term Plan coming up, the time to act is now.