This week is the Mental Health Foundation’s mental health awareness week, which this year is focusing on stress. The Mental Health Foundation state that “research has shown that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetimes, and stress is a key factor in this … by tackling stress, we can go a long way to tackle mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, and, in some instances, self-harm and suicide”.
For people with mental health conditions, a large contributing factor to effectively tackling stress is person centred, ongoing support to assist them in dealing with the day to day challenges that life throws up, and that because of poor mental health are significantly more stressful and difficult to cope with than they might be to other people. So it is of great concern that so many services which offer this type of support, both mental health specific and more general, have been cut this year with no notice, no consultation, and no real consideration of the impact. In fact as things stand, by the end of June there will be no services offering this kind of support in the whole of North Somerset, meaning that these stresses will go unchecked and unsupported, with all the implications that brings.
North Somerset Council have said that they will be commissioning another advocacy service, but this will be a very specific service suitable only for those who are in the most severe of mental health crisis and who have been deemed to not have the capacity to make their own decisions and detained under the Mental Health Act as a result. This new service will not replace any of the other community mental health services 1in4 offers, any of the services aimed at tackling social isolation which have recently been cut (isolation being another major contributing factor to poor mental health), nor will it do anything to mitigate the huge budget cut to the community support (Support Alliance) scheme, which caused 5 out of the 6 partners in the alliance to close down with the loss of all their specialist skills and knowledge.
What few services do still exist have little specialist knowledge or understanding of mental health, or are so underfunded that they will not have the resources to work in a person centred and accessible way, making them difficult if not impossible for people with mental health conditions to access. Not to mention the extra stress they will soon be under due to the displaced demand from the cut services.
BNSSG Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) who also hold responsibility for providing mental health services and who part funded the 1in4 service have said that other similar services exist, which simply isn’t true. They have also said they will look at providing alternative services, however service commissioning is a long process and the clock is ticking.
So for all the talk of mental health awareness, the promised budget increases for mental health care, and the national discussions about parity of esteem between mental health and physical health, North Somerset has taken a huge step backwards – and residents who suffer from mental health conditions have been abandoned and left to fend for themselves. What few financial savings may be made by the cuts are far outweighed by the disproportionate and unfair cost to already vulnerable people, and this simply isn’t good enough.
With so little left, there is an opportunity for the Council and CCG to hold meaningful consultations with service users to design innovative new services that meet the support needs of residents whilst also being mindful of budgetary constraints. This is an opportunity that neither can afford to miss, and we again call on both to commit to an open and honest dialogue with us to answer our concerns and further these aims.