The Health Policy Partnership team

‘Your post code should not be a risk factor for mental illness’

10 October 2021

Health inequalities are particularly prominent when it comes to mental health. To mark this year’s World Mental Health Day, we asked the HPP team what mental health equality means to them.

We are currently in the middle of a mental health crisis, which has only been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Between 75% and 95% of people in low-and middle-income countries who need mental health support are unable to access services, stigma attached to mental illness can affect education and employment, and investment in mental health services is insufficient. To reflect this, the theme for this year’s World Mental Health Day is ‘Mental health in an unequal world’.

In the work that we do at HPP, we advocate for mental health equality as an essential part of tackling health inequalities as a whole. To mark World Mental Health Day, we asked HPP team members to complete the sentence ‘I believe in mental health equality because…’. We were overwhelmed by the thoughtful and candid responses we received, which make up this blog.

 

difficulties with mental health affect the most vulnerable in our society the most

The overarching theme that came up is the correlation between social and economic inequality and mental health inequality. World Mental Health Day celebrates everybody’s right to receive support for their mental health, no matter where they happen to be born, their stage in life or what race, religion or gender they are. Difficulties with mental health, however, affect the most vulnerable in our society the most and there is a wealth of evidence that people in marginalised groups are less likely to access support. Ultimately, even though a post code should not be a risk factor for mental illness, how much money someone makes still plays a central role in how quickly they can access mental health services.

The economic impact of mental illness works both ways. As one team member pointed out, half of disability benefit claims in Britain nowadays are due to mental ill health – that’s over a million people out of work and many more taking sick days and experiencing stress at work.

Every suicide is a stark reminder of the catastrophic impact that failures in our health and wider societal systems can have on the lives of people with mental health conditions and their families.

mental health is a fundamental component of health and wellbeing

Mental health is not separate from physical health and it affects all aspects of our lives: ‘I’m constantly learning more about the interconnectedness of mental, physical, economic and societal health’, said one team member. The fact that most of us ‘will have either suffered from a mental health issue in our lives, or know someone who has’ can attest to this.

Although improvements are being made in recognising the holistic nature of mental health, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, this has not yet translated into equal resources or empathy for people experiencing mental ill health on a par with physical illness. Underinvestment in mental health services is still rife, and the stigma associated with mental health continues to have an unacceptably high impact on access to treatment.

 

COVID-19 has further highlighted mental health inequalities

Although COVID-19 has made discussions around mental health more public, it has also wreaked havoc on mental health, with many people experiencing grief, job redundancy and uncertainty. This has mostly affected those who are already at risk – health and care workers, people who already had mental health issues, and women. For them, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a particularly devastating impact on mental health.

World Mental Health Day is worth celebrating as an act of solidarity with all those struggling, recognising the impact of poor mental health and the strides needed to improve inequities in care.

…mental health is a human rights issue

Mental health can be underprioritised in low- and middle-income countries, where humanitarian emergencies such as war, civil unrest and natural disasters can also occur and will clearly cause extreme psychological distress. At a time of humanitarian crisis, receiving mental health support can be lifesaving.

The highly concerning Human Rights Watch report found that ‘people with mental health conditions are still being shackled or chained in 60 countries across Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle East and the Americas’. In many countries, there are no laws to protect people from this appalling treatment – clearly, we still have a way to go before access to mental health services and treatments is recognised as a human rights issue.

 

If we are to tackle inequality, addressing mental health issues must be at the forefront of this work. Mental health impacts all aspects of our lives. To encapsulate this sentiment, we’ll leave you with this final thought:

‘Mental health equality is human consciousness which brings meaning to the universe. To live in the expectation of compassion, dignity, humour, peace and hope for the future, to propagate and elevate these qualities against adversity, is to be truly human.’

 

Many thanks to all the HPP team members who contributed to this blog: Alex Pollard, Catherine Hodge, Catherine Whicher, Chris Melson, Ed Harding, Jody Tate, Joe Farrington-Douglas, Karolay Lorenty, Kirsten Budig, Laura Smith, Madi Murphy, Monica Racovita, Suzanne Wait and Tasnime Osama. Their contributions were compiled by Joe Jubb and edited by Kasia Trojanowska.
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