The recent EU referendum has brought about momentous political changes within just three weeks and looks set to have major social and economic effects across the UK for a long time to come.
The possible impact of the result for people with mental health problems was first discussed by Mark Brown (director of Social Spider and creator of A Day in the Life) in the days following the referendum in a wide-ranging article exploring the potential impact on mental health services, on charities, on research and on wellbeing in society as a whole.
Centre for Mental Health worked with Social Spider to convene a round table meeting of mental health charities to explore the implications of the referendum for our mental health and for mental health services. While it is far too soon to know for sure what impact the vote has had on people’s mental health so far, let alone what it will mean over the longer term, it is clear that some very significant challenges lie ahead.
There are reasons to be concerned about the impact of the referendum result and its consequences on the nation’s mental health. A growing sense of uncertainty about the future, a possible recession, and a reported rise in racist attacks, can all be risk factors for poor mental health.
Coupled with a possible (continued) increase in need for mental health support over the next few years there are growing concerns about the funding of that support, both from the NHS and from local government, where funding is already under extreme pressure. Financial pressures could have a particular impact on voluntary and community sector organisations reliant on short-term funding from local statutory sector bodies.
In this light, it is crucial that pledges of additional funding for improvements to both child and adult mental health services between now and 2020 are honoured in full, that the Mental Health Five Year Forward View is implemented comprehensively, and that local NHS commissioners deliver real terms increases in mental health spending for each of the next five years.
Leaving the EU could also put pressure on mental health organisations whose workforce includes significant numbers of people from other European states. Anecdotal reports of ‘distress’ are already being heard from workers in a range of mental health services. But there are risks, too, to vital mental health research spanning international borders.
Earlier this week, the Prime Minister’s speech outside 10 Downing Street included a strong concern about a lack of mental health support for people who need it. With such high profile, and unprecedented, commitment to addressing this longstanding problem, concerted action both within the NHS and across government to secure a better, fairer deal for mental health is now essential. Without it, the challenges ahead for the UK will carry far greater risks for everyone’s wellbeing.