The rise in mental health problems since I became your MP 22 years ago is a serious concern. Every year 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health issue. We live stressful lives, not helped by our obsession with screens and social media.
Parity between mental and physical health is a key priority for this Government. The NHS’ Long Term Plan will boost investment in adult mental health treatment in real terms by at least £2.3 billion a year by 2023/24. Early diagnosis for children is vital too. Mental health disorders can develop from an early age, with half of all problems diagnosed by 14, and three-quarters diagnosed by 24. NHS England therefore aims to treat 70,000 more children and young people by 2020/21.
Greater funding is essential and welcome – particularly here in West and North-West Kent where waiting times for children to access initial treatment are unacceptably high: in the Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley area it’s currently over 18 weeks. Any waiting time is too long, but the Government’s commitment to a national waiting time standard will be a significant step in the right direction.
Many GP appointments are due to depression, anxiety and loneliness – at significant cost to the taxpayer. Awareness of helplines and online support is growing – but we must do more to unclog surgeries. Local schools too must work with our district council to tackle teenage depression due to excessive screen use and the stigma of mental health. Bureaucracy is the curse of the NHS, and a more holistic approach between local trusts would surely reduce confusion of where to access services and help streamline them.