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Wed, 30 September 2020

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The Tories promised action for mental health services, yet in the midst of a crisis they've been silent

The Tories promised action for mental health services, yet in the midst of a crisis they've been silent

The pressures that have been placed on those already suffering from mental ill health cannot be underestimated, writes Rosena Allin-Khan MP. | PA Images

4 min read

There has been a worrying 17% increase in suicides from 2017 to 2019. This must be a wake up call for the Government to take mental ill health and suicide prevention seriously.

The Government has a responsibility to take mental health seriously.

Covid-19 has brought changes to all of our lives and a lot of uncertainty over the course of the last six months is set to continue.

This virus has exacerbated risk factors known to have an impact on mental health, like health concerns for ourselves and loved ones, potential loss of livelihood, or an inability to support one’s family. Not to mention the mental health impact of being isolated during lockdown, and separated from family and friends.

This week’s ONS statistics highlighted a worrying 17% increase in suicides from 2017 to 2019, with the suicide rate for men the highest for two decades. This worrying upward trend in England highlights the importance of taking suicide and mental ill health seriously.

These figures show some truly alarming trends that the Government must take notice of: men aged 45-49 remain at the highest risk of suicide, and there has been an increase in suicide rates among young people, especially women under 25.

Suicide is both a public health and social inequality issue, but with the right interventions it is preventable.

During this pandemic, it has been heart-breaking to see the effects of the virus on our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities, our children and young people, older people, and the already isolated and lonely.

People have had to risk their lives every single day by potentially exposing themselves to the virus while fearing that they will lose their jobs and be unable to support their families. The pressures that have been placed on those already suffering from mental ill health cannot be underestimated, and their effects must not be ignored.

Throughout this crisis, the input from mental health professionals has been invaluable in understanding the future that the country faces. From the impact of the virus on our NHS and care staff, to understanding the mental health implications of being off school on our children and young people, the voices of our experts have never been more crucial.

Yet, during this week’s Health Questions, I asked the Health Secretary and the Mental Health Minister how many mental health organisations they had met with between March and June. An FOI revealed they had attended just two meetings at a time of great uncertainty and when our nation’s mental health was suffering immensely.

There is time to act – but the Government must do it now before further pressure is heaped upon the vulnerable.

In their 2019 manifesto, the Conservatives promised action for mental health services – yet, in the midst of a health crisis that has separated many of us from our loved ones and support networks, they have been silent.

The crisis is far from over and for many, there are new challenges around the corner – the end of the job retention scheme, the threat of evictions and repossessions, and access to health services this winter.

There is time to act – but the Government must do it now before further pressure is heaped upon the vulnerable.

My offer to meet the Government to discuss Labour’s Care for Carers proposal for tailored mental health support for all NHS and care staff is still open should they change their minds and wish to meet. Our fantastic frontline staff and key workers must not be abandoned now.

There must be a national focus on mental health now, and suicide prevention has to be a priority for this government, so we can work together to save lives. This must be a wake up call for the Government.

If you're struggling to cope, contact the Samaritans on 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org

 

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan is the Labour MP for Tooting and shadow minister for mental health.

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