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Minding our Minds

The UK is taking huge steps towards improving mental health services. Changes are being made to Health and Care Bill to reduce health inequalities, meaning mental and physical health will be more equal.


Mental health affects how we feel, think and act, it influences how we engage with others, handle stressful situations, and perceive the world. It can affect every aspect of our life and every stage of our life from childhood through to adulthood. Mental health can be influenced by many factors such as biological or experiences; scientists have long debated nature or nurture being the cause.


It is often considered secondary, or separate, to physical health, however, mental health can be very physical. With common anxiety symptoms exhibiting fast heart rate, sweating, trembling and stomach issues, to name a few. Often senses of hyperawareness in anxiety and OCD can lead people to become overly aware of their bodily sensations. Similarly, with depression: trouble sleeping, aches and pains, and no appetite.


When Coronavirus hit, everyone’s lives completely changed. The words social distancing, quarantine, lockdown, and pandemic were on everyone’s lips, and no contact with loved ones was in everyone’s mind. Despite being a virus, Coronavirus penetrated itself into every aspect of life, from work to school, to hospitals and socialising, normality had changed from what it once was. The pandemic triggered economic and social disruption, with health equity, businesses’ closing, increases in unemployment, supply issues, stock shortages, and panic buying. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that during the pandemic mental health services were disrupted in 93% of countries. Exacerbating and triggering mental health conditions, the pandemic brought about feelings over isolation, bereavement, fear, and increased levels of insomnia, anxiety, and substance use.


In 2020, continuing through into 2021, the NHS saw its largest challenge in the past 7 decades, Coronavirus. However, another health crisis continued was on the rise as well.


Multiple studies conducted have revealed a deterioration in mental health throughout the pandemic, despite peaks where mental health improved, levels have yet to meet pre-pandemic levels of health. Life satisfaction overall has decreased since before the pandemic. Statistics suggest psychological distress increased from 20.8% in 2019 to 24.5% in late March 2021, the highest levels were shown at the beginning of the pandemic in April 2020 to 29.5%.


It is clear of the demand for health services must meet the needs of the country. This means improving services offered, improving waiting times, offering treatment based on people’s individual circumstances rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and treating those with mental health conditions with compassion and respect.


What is the Health and Care Bill and why are these changes needed?


The Health and Care Bill is hoping to change the UK health care system, bring about a collaborative approach to improve health, rather than just providing health care services. Currently, decisions are usually made by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). However, with the changes that began on 6th July 2021, setting out key proposals in parliament, other systems are being introduced. Integrated Care Systems (ICSs) are being introduced which will bring together NHS and, local authorities and partners to meet the needs of their local area, in a social, mental, and health capacity. This will be comprised of an Integrated Care Board (ICB) which will be responsible for planning and allocation decisions and Integrated Care Partnership (ICP) which will be responsible for bringing partners together to address the needs of the population. Allowing a flexible approach, to local circumstances, will hopefully bring about better healthcare, wellbeing, and sustainable resources for all.


The mental health charity, Mind, called on the government to improve and expand the mental health services within the NHS to help combat the increase in the need for mental services after the Coronavirus pandemic. The changes to the Health and Care Bill will make significant changes to how the NHS works and interacts with the government. Organisations, such as the Centre for Mental Health and Mind, have been putting forward changes to the bill to bring equality to physical and mental health. Stating the implications for mental health services being so profound, these organisations argue that as those with conditions are twice as likely to suffer with depression, there is little support offered for them. As well as this, recommendations have been made for the Mental Health Act to be reviewed so those who are detained under the act are treated with dignity, compassion, and respect.


The government have responsed stating £500 million will be put into mental health services to improve waiting times and provide people with the support they need. Currently, in the UK, 1.5 million people are on a waiting list for treatment for mental health conditions. The bill could mean those in urgent circumstances could be seen within 24 hours and 4 hours for very urgent. As well as this treating mental health with the same urgency as physical and improve overall accessibility for people of all ages, including children and young people with mental health liaisons being available in A&E. With the historic approach of underfunding for mental health services in the UK, it is vitally important to increase funding for mental health services.


The bill includes various proposals and is still underway. It has been identified ICBs will tackle health inequalities but many have queried where the accountability is in how well this is executed. Many believe the bill must set out a progression monitoring to strengthen this to show how health inequalities are addressed. As well as this, practical changes will need to be made within the community to help support those struggling, for example, improvements in housing, finance, the job market, and support networks are also important.


Integrating health care systems, combining services to help improve physical and mental health is vitally important and long overdue. This should hopefully provide an individualistic approach to treatment. 1/3 adults and young people have reported worsening in their mental health since before the pandemic, therefore services must be ready to tackle this crisis with a compassionate understanding of each person’s circumstances and the best approach to treat them.


“Caring for the mind is as important and crucial as caring for the body. In fact, one cannot be healthy without the other”.


 


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