It's Time To Talk (About Mental Health) – But Is The Government Listening?

It’s Time To Talk Day, which encourages everyone to discuss their mental health.

Billed as the nation’s biggest mental health day – organised by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness – it began in 2014, and was meant to help break the stigma around the topic.

But, how can we do this effectively, if we’re still hampered by the government?

A combination of the cost of living crisis and the Covid pandemic means mental health is becoming an ever-growing concern for Brits – and many cannot afford to seek out the treatments they need.

To make it worse, almost 20 million UK adults never speak about mental health, according to a poll just released by the national health charity Mind.

The poll included a look at more than 5,000 people as part of Time to Talk Day, on behalf on Mind by Censuswide, between December 30, 2021 and January 5, 2022 – when the cost of living crisis had only just begun.

Around 78% of respondents said the cost of living affects them, and 18% said it has decreased their ability to make space for mental health.

Almost 46% of respondents said that they didn’t want to talk about their own issues because everyone is struggling at the moment.

A quarter of respondents said they can’t afford activities which boosted their mental health, and another quarter said they’re having to work longer hours due to rising cost of living. Some 16% said they can’t afford to contact their support networks to talk in the first place.

Over a third of adults aged 16 and over never make space in their day to talk about their mental health.

So, what does the government have to do with it?

Well, health secretary Steve Barclay has said that “prioritising the nation’s mental health isn’t just the ‘right thing to do’” but essential to help “our citizens, our communities and economy thrive”.

He promised that the government’s Levelling Up white paper would improve wellbeing in every area of the UK by 2030.

But, the government has actually just shelved its 10-year cross-government Mental Health and Wellbeing Plan.

Instead, according to the Mental Health Foundation, “the government has decided to combine the mental health plan with plans for chronic health conditions such as cancer and respiratory diseases”.

The chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, Mark Winstanley, acknowledged that the government has made significant progress in the last 20 years to tackle mental health – but said at the end of January, dropping this new plan was “regrettable”.

He said: “This decision signifies a failure to prioritise the nation’s mental health and challenge the causes of mental illness at the very moment that demand for support is soaring.”

He added that “mental health care is still playing catch-up from decades of under-funding and after the impact of the pandemic, finds itself trying to meet rising need and complexity”.

Winstanley said it was “short-sighted” of the government to ask the NHS to shoulder the burden, especially as the original hope had been that there would be coordinated action from all relevant government departments.

“Not only have we lost the opportunity to create meaningful cross-government action to support the nation’s wellbeing, but this move also ignores the contributions of thousands of people with lived experience of mental illness who fed into the extensive consultation process to underline what needs to change.”

What can the government do?

While the government is yet to indicate a U-turn on this issue, here’s what Mind is asking for:

  • Invest in community services

  • Protect those most at risk

  • Reform the Mental Health Act of 1983

  • Provide a financial safety net

  • Support children and young people

And this is what respondents to the poll wanted, too.

Mind found that 32% respondents say more knowledge and understanding around mental health would make it easier to talk about it and 30% say they would welcome tips to help start a conversation about it.