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5 Reasons Why Nadine Dorries Is Wrong To Dismiss A ‘Mental Health Crisis

Mental Health

A Mental Health Crisis was denied this week by Nadine Dorries, Minister for Mental Health, which is worrying for post-lockdown support.

Nadine Dorries MP has this week been in the news talking about how the government is “playing catch-up” over mental health provisions, and referring to statistics like demand for eating disorder services over the past year has increased by 22%. She stressed the Treasury were committed to funding change, and indeed NHS England this week announced an extra £40m to enhance mental health services for young people. Yet, not only was she questioned by the Health and Social Care Committee on the slow rollout of mental health teams being sent to schools – current targets were to reach only 35% of pupils by 2023  – but Dorries also suggested mental health issues in society was being overplayed and indeed all the conversation about it was leading people into false diagnoses. She said, “We’ve taught the nation into believing they’ve got mental health problems, when in fact what they may have is just low level anxiety.”

She also tweeted tweeted, “The pandemic has been tough for everyone, but we are not in the middle of a MH crisis, suicides did not go up and the NHS are working as hard as fast as we can to reduce waiting tones [sic] to the absolute minimum.” As shown by mental health campaigner Ben West here:

Here’s why this is a dangerous line to spread by Dorries:

1) Official Stats Reject Her Claims.

The Office for National Statistics reported one in five people experienced some form of depression during the pandemic. If that doesn’t count as a crisis – 1 IN 5! – then we don’t know what would. To say this is likely simply low level anxiety drummed up by mental health being trendy is disingenuous in a country which has had 129k deaths to date. The sheer impact of grief from lost loved ones should alone be reason enough not to dismiss talk of a crisis.

 

2) Associated Stats Need to be Considered

Alcoholic liver deaths increased by 21% during the pandemic according to Public Health England. That alone should point to people self-medicating to cope with the situation. It’s a mental health statistic, just as much as the increase in eating disorders amongst young people is a mental health statistic. This is a broad picture since stresses are expressed in a variety of ways, and indeed many struggles are not flagged at all – particularly when it comes to men; hence the suicide statistic being much higher for men, because as CALM say, they don’t seek help until crisis point.

 

3) We Don’t Fully Know The Mental Health Impact of the Pandemic.

Quite simply, the full effects of lockdown year aren’t known yet. We don’t have all the statistics on mental health, particularly when it comes to the suicide figures, which won’t be announced until September. We don’t know if they have gone up or down yet.

Further to this: only this week have restrictions been lifted, in which people can begin to get back to ‘normal’. But what is normal? Not the pre-pandemic one. Indeed the financial challenges alone – as business loans start to be paid back, as furloughs end in September at which point job losses are expected to spike, and as the cost of living rises with tax burdens to follow – means the stress is going to be considerable for a great many. This is about preparation for, as much as response to, mental health issues.

 

4) Mental Health Problems Are Not Created Equal.

By following the oft-touted line by certain sectors that mental health problems are mostly imagined by people just because everyone’s talking about the issue, it devalues the very real experiences of the millions trying to seek help. Critically, it also lumps people in together, when actually there are pre-existing inequalities in mental health which surely demands a more nuanced approach. The Health Foundation cited heightened risk factors such as social isolation (with loneliness likely to increase your risk of death by 26%), domestic abuse (calls to Refuge increased by 49%), quality of housing (12% of households have no access to a garden), those with pre-existing mental health conditions who lost access to their services (the Royal College of Psychiatrists reported half of psychiatrists have seen increases in emergency cases during lockdown but a fall in routine appointments). There is great, specific need out there, with identifiable groups who are most at risk of mental health problems. How should they feel about being shrugged off with everyone else in this manner?

 

5) Poverty Is A Crucial Factor Deserving Special Mention.

Even though any of us can experience mental health problems, there is a higher risk if you have a lower income. 2 in 5 of those on incomes under £10,000 experience depressive symptoms, three times the rate of those earning over £50,000 a year. When you consider in April 2021 there were 2.6million people seeking Jobseeker’s Allowance or Universal Credit, compared to 1.4million in March 2020, you have a picture of the size of the iceberg under the surface. The crisis is here, and it lies not just in the straight mental health statistics alone. Notably, one in three children in the UK are now living in poverty, with studies this week highlighting the two-child cap on benefits is affecting over a million children. Charities have estimated government funding for children’s services to have fallen by 24% over the last decade.

 

In short, we welcome the public discussion around mental health, and the money being pledged, but the opinions of Nadine Dorries raises questions about how seriously the matter is being taken, how nuanced is the approach and where a connected vision is to address the intersections of risk. It brings up concerns that keeping up appearances is leading to a governmental early denial about the scale of mental health illness as damaging as the one they had about coronavirus.

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