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What's more deserving, your pain or your pizza?

Sometimes it feels wrong to experience emotional struggles and difficulties with mental health. It's self indulgent, isn't it? It's certainly not as urgent as physical pain. Really, you would do well to just 'pull yourself together'. This is the narrative that so many of us grow up with in the United Kingdom and it is one that many of us internalise. Once it's embedded in our mind, we don't need anyone else to tell us we're wallowing in self-pity, we do a pretty good job of it ourselves.

I wonder if there are any counsellors or therapists out there who don't hear on a weekly basis the line 'I have no right to feel bad. There are so many other people who have it so much worse than me.' Having said that, I wonder if there are many counsellors or therapists who don't think exactly this of themselves on a weekly basis.

If I experience severe pain in my back, I want to get the pain sorted. I know that someone else somewhere will inevitably feel worse and need more intensive treatment than me, but I don't think I'm undeserving of a professional's time. I would be pretty disappointed if I saw my doctor and she told me I was just being a wuss!

We seem to have this inbuilt prejudice about psychological pain. That's a bad thing on an individual basis. What makes it even worse is that this mind-set still informs decision making at all levels of our society. In January of this year, the British Medical Association (BMA) published a paper called 'Beyond parity of esteem', which called for mental health services to be valued and funded on a par with other health services. This month, the BMA published a paper on the impact of Covid on mental health and mental health services. They referred back to their earlier paper in the light of the crisis. Unsurprisingly, they didn't think much progress had been made, but noted that Covid had made the issues they had previously highlighted all the bigger and more urgent.

There is general agreement that the current situation is having a dreadful impact on mental health. As early as April, studies in the Lancet were indicating the serious implications of the pandemic, which had barely started at that point. That's true for children and adults of all ages. These days it is acknowledged as an issue across the media, even in the most reactionary places. Everyone knows what we are going through has serious implications. Everyone says there is an increased need for specialist support, but there is no effective plan to provide it. If anything, it seems that funding is moving away from services in many places. Where it has increased, those increases have so far been the equivalent of building a one metre seawall to defend against a tsunami.

In May, the Health Minister announced £5 million in extra funding for mental health services in response to the pandemic. This was widely trumpeted in the media. Extra money for mental health services is always welcome, but let's take a step back from this number and look at it in context. If just 1% of the population now find themselves in need of help for the first time, that is 660,000 potential new clients or patients. £5 million is equivalent to £7.58 each. I know the arithmetic is simplistic, but I think the point stands. 'Eat Out to Help Out' cost the country over £500 million. I understand the importance of supporting the economy and losing your job does no good for anyone's mental health. I just find it interesting that we spent more money on subsidising a Monday night pizza in August than we have thus far committed to addressing the mental well-being of thousands of our fellow citizens.

Let's hope at some point the rhetoric will be backed up with funding and we can move 'Beyond parity of esteem.'


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