Why Are the Major Political Parties Not Talking About Mental Health?

As we head into the 2024 United Kingdom elections, it is crucial for the next administration to prioritise mental health and implement a robust, cross-government strategy to address the growing mental health crisis in schools

As we enter this General Election, it’s painfully clear that mental health is being neglected. Despite rising levels of poor mental health, an estimated 1.2 million people on NHS waiting lists in England, and the fact that 1 in 4 people experience a diagnosable mental illness each year, the major political parties remain alarmingly silent on the issue. This silence is particularly striking given the troubling trajectory of mental health in the UK since the 2017 Green Paper. The focus on mental health has waned significantly, and this neglect has had dire consequences. The training for Senior Mental Health Leads is about to stop being funded, and we are seeing record numbers of staff leaving the profession. 

Minds Ahead is leading a call to action. We must make a change. 

The Decline in Focus on Mental Health

The 2017 Green Paper on mental health presented a vision for transforming mental health services, particularly for children and young people. However, since its publication, the momentum has stalled. Political rhetoric has not translated into substantial action, and mental health has slipped down the political agenda. The reasons for this decline are multifaceted:

  1. Political Priorities: Mental health often takes a backseat to other pressing issues such as Brexit, the economy, and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Short-termism: Politicians tend to focus on short-term gains and quick wins, whereas mental health improvements require long-term investment and commitment.
  3. Stigma and Misunderstanding: Despite progress, there remains a stigma around mental health issues which leads to insufficient political will to address them comprehensively.
  4. Fragmented Responsibility: Mental health prevention and care fall across multiple government departments, making cohesive action challenging. The Department for Education and Department for Health in particular do not offer a cohesive approach to this crisis. 

The Impact on Society

The neglect of mental health has far-reaching consequences. Schools, in particular, are facing a tsunami of mental health and safeguarding issues. Teachers are on the front lines, witnessing the effects of this crisis daily. The increase in mental health issues among students is alarming, with schools struggling to provide adequate support due to limited resources and insufficient funding.

The Mental Health Crisis in Schools

Preventative mental health measures in schools have been shown to be highly effective and cost-efficient. Yet, the expansion of mental health support teams to all schools by 2030, as proposed by some parties, is far from sufficient. We need comprehensive, whole-system approaches to mental health and wellbeing that include anti-bullying programs, trauma-informed practices, and targeted interventions. We need to review external agency involvement and how health interacts with schools.

Most importantly, we need a national conversation about what we want schools to be. If we are meant to be social hubs, we need funding as such. We need to be social hubs by design, and not by default. 

Teacher Mental Health

The mental health crisis is not limited to students. Teachers are experiencing unprecedented levels of stress and burnout. A 4% increase in long-term mental health issues among teachers (Jerrim et al., 2021) and the fact that 53% have considered leaving the profession due to mental distress (Education Support, 2021) paint a bleak picture. The lack of support and the heavy workload are taking a toll, with many teachers leaving within their first five years.

What Needs to Be Done?

To truly address the mental health crisis, we need a comprehensive, cross-government plan that prioritises mental health across all sectors. This plan should include:

  • Extend funding for Senior Mental Health Leads: Ending this funding will be incredibly damaging – mental health leads need to be trained frequently, putting them on a level footing with designated safeguarding leads. 
  • Support for Children’s Mental Health: Expanding mental health services in schools and adopting a whole-system approach.
  • A national policy on teacher wellbeing: We need to review teacher workload and expectations and introduce innovative policies to support wellbeing, such as 20% PPA. 

Conclusion

The current political landscape offers some commitments to mental health, but they are piecemeal and lack the comprehensive approach needed. The neglect of mental health is a missed opportunity that affects millions of people, particularly in our schools. We need urgent action and sustained commitment to reverse the decline and improve mental health for all. As we head into this election, it is crucial for the next administration to prioritise mental health and implement a robust, cross-government strategy to address this growing crisis.

The time for talking is over; it’s time for action. 

Discover Minds Ahead's initiatives to support mental health in schools

References

  1. Department of Health and Social Care. (2017). Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health Provision: A Green Paper. Retrieved from Gov.uk

  2. Jerrim, J., Sims, S., & Taylor, H. (2021). The mental health of teachers in England: Evidence from the UK Teacher Wellbeing Index. Retrieved from UCL Institute of Education

  3. Aloe, A. M., Shisler, S. M., Norris, B. D., Nickerson, A. B., & Rinker, T. W. (2014). A multivariate meta-analysis of student misbehavior and teacher burnout. Educational Research Review, 12, 30-44.

  4. Dodge, R., Daly, A. P., Huyton, J., & Sanders, L. D. (2012). The challenge of defining wellbeing. International Journal of Wellbeing, 2(3), 222-235.