London: Months after appointing its first Minister for Loneliness, Britain named a Minister for Suicide Prevention as part of a new push to tackle mental health issues.
Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday announced the appointment of Health Minister Jackie Doyle-Price to the new role. She will lead government efforts to cut the number of suicides and overcome the stigma that prevents people with mental health problems from seeking help.
While suicide rates have dropped in recent years, about 4,500 people take their own lives each year in England. It remains the leading cause of death for men under age 45, according to government research.
“We can end the stigma that has forced too many to suffer in silence,” May said on Wednesday at a Downing Street reception to commemorate World Mental Health Day. “We can prevent the tragedy of suicide taking too many lives. And we can give the mental well-being of our children the priority it so profoundly deserves.”
Lack of support
Mental health services in Britain have become increasingly stretched in recent years, as demand has grown against the backdrop of budget cuts mandated by the government’s decade-long austerity policy.
Lorna Heather, a mother of two aged 22, said that after she received a anxiety disorder diagnosis from her doctor in May last year, she had to wait eight months to get an appointment for therapy with a specialist.
“Some days I got so anxious I locked myself in a room for hours and just thought about killing myself,” Heather said in an interview at her home in Barrow-in-Furness, England, in the northwestern county of Cumbria. “I came very close.
“I wanted help, and I received some counselling from local charities,” she added, “but my condition was more severe than the help they could offer me.”
Heather started receiving cognitive behavioural therapy in January, but after eight sessions, her therapy was transferred to a clinic an hour and 15 minutes away because of staffing issues at the first clinic. “It’s an hour there, followed by a 45-minute session, and then it takes over an hour to come back on two different buses,” she said. “It’s just not sustainable to take so much time out of your day when you have young children.”
After two sessions at the new clinic, Heather said she stopped attending, even though her doctor had recommended six more months of therapy.
Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, acknowledged on Wednesday that mental health services had been short of resources, as he began a new initiative to put mental health on an equal footing with physical health. “The truth is that, for an awfully long time, mental health has simply not had the same level of support — both in terms of resources, but also in terms of how we as a society talk about it — compared to physical health, and we want to change that,” Hancock said in an interview with the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“There is a long road to travel to get there,” he added. “This is not something you solve overnight.”
By appointing a minister for suicide prevention, the government wants to ensure that mental health is made a priority as new funding is injected into the National Health Service, Hancock said.
The prime minister pledged additional support for mental health services for children and youths, with a new recruitment drive for specialist teams to tackle issues in schools and to provide tools to measure students’ mental well-being.