Our culture is taking its toll on our children's mental health
Our children are being born into a world with a unique challenges that influence mental wellbeing, says Wera Hobhouse MP.
When we talk about mental health, a question often arises: Are mental health statistics going up because more people are suffering, or are they going up because more people are talking about their suffering?
Research indicates that it is a combination of the two. As we slowly disperse the cloud of our ingrained societal stigma towards mental health that has existed for so long, more and more people are finally able to discuss and seek help for the suffering caused by their conditions.
At the same time our children are being born into a world with a unique challenges that influence mental wellbeing. Advertising plays a role, as does social media. Horrific images of barbaric acts are instantaneously beamed into bedrooms across the country. Couple this with existential threats of climate change, the rise of right wing populism...it is fair to say that our culture operates at an all level high of negativity. This is taking its toll on mental health.
It is clear that we have a problem, and we are only just realising the scale of it. In the 1960s the average onset age for depression was 45. Today it is 14. Earlier this week a YouGov survey was published saying that 18% of young people in UK do not think life is worth living.
How do we go about solving a problem as large as this? We need to break it down into smaller pieces.
Since I have been campaigning to address the complex causes and treatment of eating disorders in Parliament, I have learnt more and more about mental health issues surrounding the disorder. It takes people an average of 58 weeks from realising they have a problem before seeking help from a GP. This delay means that the disorder can become so entranced that is grows into a life-defining condition.
Through my work with campaigners like Hope Virgo, Lorna O’Connor, Lizzie McNaught and Renee McGregor, it has become crystal clear that prevention and early intervention, have the best chance to really improve the outcomes of people’s lives. It makes sense; it’s very difficult to mend a glass once it’s broken, but far easier to stop it breaking in the first place.
The thing is, we know what we need to do to minimise the impact of these illnesses.
We need much better mental health support in schools. Tory cuts to school funding has meant that mental health support staff are often the first to go when a school is trying to balance their budgets.
We have to make sure that when people go to a GP, their GP has received adequate training to understand the full and complex issues surrounding mental health. It is not acceptable that patients are told, “You aren’t thin enough for treatment,” or “You aren’t depressed enough yet”. We need to shorten waiting times, but first of all we need to actually set targets for waiting times for adult sufferers of eating disorders for referrals to mental health services.
We also need to roll out mental health first aid training to workplaces across the country.
This requires appropriate funding. The Liberal Democrats have argued for some time now that we need to put a penny on the pound of income tax to fund further detailed policies on improving mental health services, and safeguard the future of the NHS.
My colleague Norman Lamb has been a tireless advocate for the mental health cause. In the coalition, we trebled the number of people who were treated through talking therapies. We also introduced the first ever wait times for mental health. Sadly though, progress has paused.
The Liberal Democrats demand better for people who suffer from mental health conditions. So do the British public. Shifting attitudes towards mental health is one of the most positive cultural shifts that has happened recently, and there’s an appetite for change.
I’ve tabled a motion to improve specifically how we treat eating disorders, and I encourage my colleagues from across the house to work together to bring an end to this suffering.
Together we can beat eating disorders, and we can improve the lives of so many people with mental ill health.
Wera Hobhouse is Liberal Democrat MP for Bath.