Alan Ferguson, Peabody’s head of Mental Health, discusses the increasing importance of investing in mental health services
How are you? I’m not asking in the polite, habitual manner we use with friends and colleagues. When was the last time you took a moment to really think about your mental health?
Most of us know the statistic that one in four people struggle with mental health at some point. Less well known is the fact that, like physical health, it is a continuum. Our mental health ranges from positively functioning to severely unwell, and its daily position on this scale influences our behaviour and impacts our lives.
We all have good and bad days. And on our bad days, we are less able to deal with life’s challenges, which in extreme cases can lead to self-harm or suicide.
The pandemic has brought mental health into the centre of the national conversation – and it has impacted us all. Research published this year predicts that 10 million more people will need support with their mental health in the next three to five years due of COVID-19.
Referrals for mental health services are up 24% from last year, and over 1.6 million people are waiting for treatment.
But the pandemic hasn’t impacted everyone equally. Most affected are those who already struggled to access mental health support before COVID-19.
For instance, people living in the most deprived areas of England are more likely to be referred for counselling through the NHS psychological therapies service, but are much less likely to receive a full course of treatment. It isn’t a coincidence that this year’s World Mental Health Day theme is ‘Mental Health in an Unequal world’.
In spite of this emerging crisis, our nation’s mental health services are not being properly resourced. The Kings Fund estimates that 23% of all health treatments are down to mental ill health.
Yet the NHS’ spending on mental health (including learning disabilities and dementia) accounts for only 14.8% of local health spend.
A number of organisations have already withdrawn from supported housing provision – plus local authority budgets have been cut, the thresholds for support eligibility raised, and funding is being granted mainly to those with the most complex needs. The inequal access to mental health services will only increase, and cost the taxpayer more too.
“Supported housing is an obvious solutions as, done well, it improves people’s health, leads to significant cost savings and reduces strain on other health services”
An example of this has been the increased use of out-of-area placements. If we don’t alter our trajectory, the future will likely be bleak.
So what can we do to deliver equal access to mental health support, whilst meeting increased demand and preventing unsustainable costs?
We need to invest in those mental health services which are really effective. Supported housing is one of the obvious solutions as, done well, it improves people’s health, leads to significant cost savings and reduces strain on other health services.
This year, the Centre for Mental Health revealed that a step-down mental health service could save between £2-£3k per week compared to NHS or independent acute beds.
Peabody’s specialist supported housing helps individuals gain the skills and confidence to move into an independent home. Many of our customers go on to lead happier and healthier lives, which reduces their dependence on public health services and decreases hospital re-admissions.
It also reduces strain on other social services, as mental health is the single largest cause of disability in the UK.
We focus on preventing declines in mental ill health and improving resilience for the future. For example, at Peabody almost a fifth of our customers from high support homes successfully moved into more independent living last year.
And 18% of our medium support customers moved into independent accommodation in the same period. We also employ an award-winning peer worker team who use their own lived experience to support our customers.
And there is excellent work happening throughout the sector. Several providers are starting to use more innovative techniques in supported housing schemes, such as psychologically and trauma-informed support.
Childhood trauma is attributed to 4-12 times higher rates of alcoholism, depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicide so Peabody is working with a team of psychologists and Homeless Link to make our services more trauma-aware.
By using these new approaches and helping people come to terms with their past, we can vastly improve their chance of recovery from severe mental ill health.
But as Peabody’s Brendan Sarsfield wrote to Inside Housing in February, we need to raise the profile of supported housing among ministers and policy makers. We must show them evidence of the social, economic and health benefits of this service, or we may find it gradually dying out.
With increased demand for mental health services upon us, investment in mental health services is vital. I hope you will never need to access these services. But, if you did, wouldn’t you feel better knowing they were reliably available and accessible for all?
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