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This Mental Health Awareness Week, we must urgently improve access to vital mental health services that so many desperately need

3 min read

The theme of this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week (9 to 15 May) is loneliness.

It’s important, of course, to encourage people to be more open about their mental health and timely to focus on loneliness after two years of lockdowns. But it is not enough. Not when so many people who have recognised that they need help, and have reached out for it, just can’t get it.

Most, if not all, MPs will have been contacted by parents desperate to get SEND assessments, ECHPs and CAMHS support for their children. Government figures show that a shocking one in six 11-to 19-year-olds have a probable mental health condition, up from one in nine in 2017.

Given that half of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14, rising to 75 per cent by the age of 24, this is a ticking time bomb. There has, it’s true, been an expansion of services, but as the then Children’s Commissioner said last year, we “are still nowhere near meeting the level of need and hundreds of thousands of children are being left without help as a result.”

Even if we can only prevent one suicide, that is a life worth saving

Adults too, can wait months for treatment after their initial assessment. Even then, getting to the end of a waiting list doesn’t always mean that appropriate treatment is available; talking therapies are not the answer for everyone. Two-fifths of patients waiting for mental health treatment are forced to contact emergency or crisis services, with one in ten ending up in A&E.

A recent survey from Manchester University, looking at suicides by men aged 40-54, found that the vast majority had had contact with frontline services, including 82 per cent with GPs, 50 per cent with mental health services and 30 per cent with the justice system. Two-thirds of them had been in contact with frontline services in the three months before death. The conclusion was that “It is therefore too simplistic to say that men do not seek help”.

In November last year one of my closest friends, Ric, was one of those who sought help. He was asked by the crisis team to attend A&E and he did: but then ended up walking out, going home, and taking his own life. Ric’s memorial service was last week. The inquest is later this month. Whilst trying to celebrate his life, my friends and I are of course asking whether we could have done more. But we are also questioning why, throughout his life, the support he needed – as a child who’d been in the care system, as an army veteran who’d served in Bosnia and the first Gulf War, as someone who first sought help more than 20 years ago - just wasn’t there.

On 18 May I’ll be hosting an event in the Speaker’s Rooms on mental health and suicide. I’ll be joined by Bernard Sumner and Stephen Morris, from the bands Joy Division/ New Order, and by the CEO of the male suicide prevention charity, CALM. The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, will be chairing the discussion, and we’ll be asking the mental health minister, Gillian Keegan, and the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, to respond.

I’d like to thank Mr. Speaker, who has his own experience of a tragic suicide in the family, for letting us do this. We can’t bring back those we have lost to suicide, but we hope that an event like this, attended by parliamentarians and press, will help prevent some of the 5,000-plus suicides that take place each year. Even if we can only prevent one suicide, that is a life worth saving.


Kerry McCarthy is the Labour MP for Bristol East.

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