Why don’t we just… prioritise mental health services in Leeds?

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In 2019, roughly one in every 10 pounds spent by the Department of Health and Social Care was on mental health provision. In comparison, 40 per cent of GP appointments were about mental health issues. Long before the pandemic, mental health services and the lack thereof were a huge problem – and it has only got worse.

Mental health has always been an underfunded sector of the NHS, but now that coronavirus is at the forefront of healthcare, it has fallen ever further into the background. The young people of Leeds have lost almost all of their safe spaces and free counselling. With the Marketplace and social spaces across the city closed, who is left to turn to?

Even online aid has suffered due to increased demand and fewer workers. Childline is no longer a 24/7 service. In an increasingly tense climate, children living in abusive environments do not have access to help outside their own homes. In fact, one in five have experienced some form of child abuse before the age of 16. How can these vulnerable young people find support in lockdown?

In addition, anxieties about health, the economy and an uncertain future have left Leeds residents overwhelmed. In a survey of local young people, 76.5 per cent said that their mental health has got worse during the pandemic, and 37.5 per cent think services are now harder to access. One young person said: “Covid-19 has just added on to the anxiety I had before.”

Your children, family or friends may be facing similar problems. The uncertainty about the virus has affected all of us, and will certainly have repercussions in the future. Despite all of this, there has been no prioritising of mental health in government discussions about funding. Another anonymous statement calls this out: “The government should be doing more to help.”

There is always the frontline of mental health provision – doctors. Regardless of whether it’s your GP or A&E, the main point of access for those with mental health issues during the coronavirus crisis is through a doctor. But is this enough? The majority find visiting their GP difficult. A combination of the pre-existing stigma and the new threat of a deadly virus means that 64.7 per cent of surveyed young people would feel anxious about any visit to their doctor. This is clearly a universal concern, with A&E visits down by 57 per cent from last April.

There is no doubt that mental health will be dragged into the public eye after this crisis. It’s a problem that the government can no longer ignore, and this sector of the NHS cannot rely on public donations. It is evident that a wide range of issues are affecting support availability in Leeds. And although this article is focused locally, our services are in a similar state of disregard throughout the country. We must speak out, demand action from the government and, hopefully, increase funding post-coronavirus. It’s an essential service, and should be treated as such.

Written by Evie Clements, aged 15, as part of a digital, media and journalism course created by Shout Out UK, a social enterprise specialising in political and media literacy education (shoutoutuk.org)

Photo: Shutterstock

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