One of the key drivers of the pressures on the NHS has been the growth in mental health problems which has led to a significant spike in the caseload of all GP surgeries in Cornwall and across the country.
The causes are multiple: the pandemic led to social isolation for some elderly people and social anxiety for some teenagers; social media has increasingly become a platform for online bullying behaviours and there are background pressures on families. We humans are social creatures. Friendships and the company of others are important. It is scientifically proven that spending quality time with loved ones and friends in a social setting has a considerable positive impact on our mental health.
At times, a mental health problem can become an all-consuming crisis for an individual leading to the terrible tragedy of suicide. Most of us will be aware of friends or families who have been affected by suicide. For many, it can be hard to discuss. It can sometimes be very unexpected leaving friends and loved ones wishing they knew so they could have helped. The causes can be complex and varied ranging from a trauma in early life to intense anxiety or depression, sometimes exacerbated by drug use
This week, the government announced the new National Suicide Prevention Strategy intended to aid specific groups at particular risk of suicide. The goal of the strategy is to ensure thousands more people approaching a crisis will get the support they so desperately need, and fewer loved ones will go through the heartbreak of losing a friend or relative to suicide. Raising awareness and flagging things early is part of the approach. The new national alert system on emerging methods or risks will mean anyone who comes into contact with potentially dangerous new methods of suicide will have a direct link to central government to report it, for consideration and discussion at the already established cross-sector emerging methods working group. Through this, alerts will be circulated to all authorities who should be aware and may be required to take mitigating action. If the method in question is being used predominantly by children or young people, for example, every single school and headteacher in the country will receive a government alert.
One group that is often disproportionately affected by mental health problems and anxiety is students. Recently, I spoke in a Westminster Hall debate in support of a new statutory duty of care for higher education students following the tragic death of Harry Armstrong-Evans from Cornwall. His family launched a campaign in his name to try to improve the duty of care from universities so that they do more to spot warning signs and intervene to help young students who need pastoral support and are in a state of crisis or heightened anxiety.
This new, cross-government strategy announced this week will build on the £13.6 billion the Government have already invested just this year to transform and improve our nation’s mental health services, help recruit 9,300 extra mental health workers and – most importantly – save lives.