In My View: Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, MP for Tooting

The past year has been incredibly difficult for us all. Public health fears, economic uncertainty and social isolation created the perfect environment for mental ill health to thrive.

This coupled with the fact that health services had to radically redeploy staff to focus all efforts on the immediate pandemic response, means we now have to grapple with a mental health crisis.

Even prior to the pandemic, mental health services were in a perilous state following a decade of underfunding by consecutive Conservative governments. Despite promises of parity of esteem between physical and mental health, the reality was anything but.

The decimation of public health budgets since 2010 has had a significant knock-on impact on mental health. Local authorities have been forced to strip back services following cuts from central government, impacting how effective local communities can be in supporting mental health and preventing a crisis in the first place.

Punishing policies on benefits from the Conservatives and the erosion of employment rights have ensnared families in cycles of poverty, hugely increasing risk factors for mental illness.

Latest Government figures show the number of children living in poverty has increased to 4.3 million, with 75 per cent living in a working household. Financial instability is one of the leading drivers of poor mental health and 50 per cent of mental health issues are established by the age of 14.

By not giving each child an equal start in life, it creates a society where children from the poorest backgrounds are four times more likely to have a diagnosable mental health condition than their more affluent peers. This is fundamentally wrong.

This inequality was undoubtedly worsened by the pandemic. Social inequalities which persisted before have been deepened, and demand for support has rapidly increased.

Rates of depression have doubled, anxiety levels have reached all-time highs, and referrals to services have spiked.

Research from the Centre for Mental Health found that up to 10 million people in England alone may require mental health support as a result of the pandemic.

The postcode lottery in terms of service provision has only worsened throughout Covid, meaning you are more likely to access support based on where you live as opposed to your need. Many people are stuck on waiting lists for months while others have their referrals closed altogether, without an appointment.

Overcoming this barrier in access is crucial to tackling the mental health crisis.

The pandemic must serve as a watershed moment in mental health. Not just in words and attitudes, but in actions. No more empty rhetoric and broken promises. Mental health in the post-Covid recovery has to be prioritised. Failure to do so will be disastrous.



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