Don’t ignore mental health inequalities: our call to all political parties in the 2019 General Election

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12 November 2019

By Andy Bell

It is now widely known that every year one in four of us experience a mental health difficulty and that any one of us can be affected. Mental health awareness campaigns sometimes use this fact as their rallying call.

It is less widely acknowledged that our risk of having a mental health problem is much less equal: that some people are much more likely than others to experience poor mental health. And very often those most at risk have the least access to help for their mental health and get poorer outcomes when they do. For example:

  • Children from the poorest 20% of households are four times as likely to have serious mental health difficulties by the age of 11 as those from the wealthiest 20%
  • Children and young people with a learning disability are three times more likely than average to have a mental health problem but they are less likely to be offered support
  • Men and women from African-Caribbean communities in the UK have high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide risk, and are more likely to be diagnosed with psychosis and to be subject to the Mental Health Act
  • 40% or more of people over the age of 85 and those in nursing homes have depression

That is why Centre for Mental Health is hosting the Commission for Equality in Mental Health – an 18-month nationwide investigation into why inequalities in mental health are so stark and seemingly intractable, and what needs to be done to change this. The Commission will publish a series of reports in 2020 sharing its findings and conclusions, with the aim of prompting action nationally and locally across the country to reduce mental health inequalities.

if the next Government is to make a real difference to the nation’s mental health, election promises and policy ideas need to look beyond the ‘one in four’ rhetoric to grapple with underlying inequality

In every general election since 2005, both the number of pledges about mental health (from all political parties) and their level of ambition have risen, and we hope that this year will follow that trend. If ‘parity of esteem’ for mental health has any meaning in practice, this needs to continue. But if the next Government is to make a real difference to the nation’s mental health, election promises and policy ideas need to look beyond the ‘one in four’ rhetoric to grapple with underlying inequality.

it means tackling poverty, homelessness and school exclusions among the most disadvantaged and marginalised young people

That means that manifestoes and pledges will need to look beyond the existing parameters of mental health policy. It means looking at the things that determine our chances of having good or poor mental health, and the ways these weigh more heavily on some of us than on others. For example, it means tackling poverty, homelessness and school exclusions among the most disadvantaged and marginalised young people. It means tackling inequalities in access to mental health support, such as among older people and people with learning disabilities or autism. And it means taking concerted action to reduce the dramatic differences in the use of the Mental Health Act between ethnic groups, highlighted in data published recently by NHS Digital.

The 2019 General Election is a chance for all political parties to put mental health inequalities at the heart of the next Government’s agenda. As our Commission for Equality seeks out sustainable and effective solutions, we hope that every political party will take this opportunity to make the next five years a time for action on tackling some of the starkest inequalities and injustices in our society.

Let’s get better mental health support for all

The coronavirus pandemic is a physical health emergency on a global scale, such as we have never seen in our lifetimes. But it is also a mental health emergency.

We are taking action to help those at the frontline of this mental health crisis.

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