Walk the talk

The Tories are failing people – and particularly failing young people – when it comes to mental health, argues London Young Labour chair Miriam Mirwitch 

Mental health services in the United Kingdom are chronically underfunded and ill-equipped to meet the needs of our population. Already meagre budgets are increasingly under pressure from the Tories, with 40 of 58 mental health trusts across England being cut last year despite the assurances of two prime ministers.

There is a crisis unfolding in young people’s mental health. Childline reported that they received over 50,000 calls from young people concerned about their mental health during 2016 – an eight per cent rise over the past four years. Additionally, the NSPCC saw a spike in the numbers of young people calling their helpline showing symptoms of anxiety in the wake of Brexit.

With half of all mental health difficulties presenting themselves before age 14, more funding is desperately needed to train teachers to detect when a child is struggling and to educate children on how to seek support. Investment in services designed specifically for young people is also vital. In October 2016 the BBC found that the average waiting time faced by young people for mental health treatment was over a month in 40 per cent of areas.

Mental illness does not exist in a vacuum; it is intersectional. With more young people in insecure work such as zero-hours contracts and equally insecure short-let housing, the ladders we climb have much more fragile rungs than even a generation ago. In these casualised conditions, young people with mental health difficulties can too easily be dismissed, mistreated and even abused. We must to do everything we can to support them.

However, we have seen some improvements. Mental health is finally beginning to get the attention it so badly needs. Fantastic work undertaken by the Time to Talk campaign, the Labour Campaign for Mental Health and countless charities is helping to break down barriers and stigma. In January of this year Theresa May pledged to work to invest in mental health services for young people. But as with so many Tory promises, it is hard to believe that her warm words will be being followed up with action. It was only last January that David Cameron promised a ‘revolution’ in mental health treatment that never came.

With the Tories failing to act, the huge responsibility of standing up for mental health has been left to Labour. We must fight to protect and improve mental health services, especially those for young people. With Labour in opposition we can only stand by as the Tories ravage mental health services, despite the fantastic work being done by Labour councils. It is only under an electable, modern and progressive Labour government that we will be able to devote more funding to mental health services and work to better support our young people.

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Miriam Mirwitch is chair of London Young Labour. She tweets at @mrwtch

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