MENTAL health provision is ‘stagnating’ in the UK - and represents a ‘national scandal’.
That’s according to Jake Mills, founder of respected mental health charity Chasing The Stigma, who was speaking at Liverpool Hope University this week.
Jake told an audience at a lecture theatre in the Eden building that there’s been a huge increase in discussions about depression and anxiety in recent years.
But he says better awareness and understanding isn’t translating into better care.
Waiting lists to see a counsellor are spiralling because people are swamping GPs, while unaware they can access care elsewhere.
And he says that while one-off awareness raising campaigns are well meaning, they potentially gloss-over the issues faced on a day-to-day basis by frontline staff.
Jake, whose charity recently launched its ‘Everyday’ campaign to focus on the issue, explained in an interview prior to his lecture: “Any awareness day that gets people talking about mental health is important.
“But it can also be quite disheartening for all the people in the sector who work on these issues day in, day out. We don’t necessarily want to be an ‘awareness raising’ charity.
“Without question, we’re talking about mental health much more these days, particularly the younger generations.
“But that’s not fixing the problem. In some ways it actually makes us vulnerable.”
Jake says mental health services have been underfunded for decades - despite the NHS committing to investing £1.6bn in services by 2020/21, and a further £2.3bn a year by 2023/24 as part of its Long Term Plan.
But Jake - who has had his own mental health struggles and who tried to take his own life in 2013 - says budgetary issues are only part of the problem.
The Liverpool Hope University graduate adds: “Ten years ago, the provision of mental health services and the actual awareness of mental health issues were on a similar level.
“Now, awareness has skyrocketed while services to meet that demand have stagnated.
“People are seeking help, and they’re typically going to see their GP, putting pressure on local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs).
“But it’s not unusual for people to be waiting 18 months to see a counsellor, particularly within the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS).
“These are people who are one step away from being suicidal.
“And what we are hearing constantly is that they’re being told, ‘You’re not ill enough. Once you’re suicidal, apply for help again’. This is not unusual.
“It’s not just a budget issue either - it’s about how we spend this budget more efficiently so that it makes a difference.
“Simply put, the different pathways to care are not common knowledge. People still don’t know what their options are.”
One of Chasing the Stigma’s key initiatives is the ‘Hub of Hope’ - an online portal and app where people can type in their postcode and see all of the services on offer in their area.
Crucially, it doesn’t just list NHS services, it lists charities and private ventures that can help alleviate over-stretched CCGs.
Jake adds: “There are many thousands of places people can be signposted to for care - but we found that people simply don’t know about them.
“And that’s the real issue.
“If you’re on a waiting list at one place, realise that you can potentially go somewhere else where there isn’t a waiting list. It’s about changing the perception of what mental health help and support really is.”
Chasing the Stigma was founded as a national charity in 2016 and Jake, a father of two from Crosby, Merseyside, says the 120,000 people who’ve used the Hub of Hope are just the ‘tip of the iceberg’.
Part of their mission is to ‘normalise’ mental health, treating it the same way as you would physical health in terms of ways you can improve it.
Jake, 31 and also a stand-up comedian, spoke movingly about his own struggles with depression - and how he was found in his car by wife Rachael - his girlfriend at the time - having tried to take his own life.
He’s now dad to Teddy, 4, and Nancy, seven months, and was speaking at Liverpool Hope University as part of University Mental Health Day.
And he says recent graduates need to be extra vigilant about their state of mind.
He says: “When you leave university, the safety net gets ripped away from you. It’s potentially the first time since being a toddler where you’re not in full time education.
“You need a job, somewhere to live, you need to fill your life with purpose and it can be a scary time.
“People need to be aware of the slow creep of anxiety and depression at this time.”
*** Liverpool Hope University provides support for students who may be experiencing any form of mental health difficulty. The Mental Health and Well-being Adviser is based in Student Development and Well-being and is there to ensure that you are appropriately supported throughout your time here to make sure you get the most from your university experience.