Can we combat Europe's depression epidemic?
If it cannot be seen and it cannot be touched, then for many it simply does not exist. Generally, the stigma around depression has decreased in recent years, partly thanks to awareness campaigns like #hereforyou on Instagram. But we are all happy to acknowledge the depression crisis as a real and pressing issue until it affects those closest to us when we struggle to fully respect the weight of their illness. For young people, in particular, it is still dismissed as ‘hormones’ or teenage moodiness. Both individually and nationally we are all happy to talk the talk, yet often our actions do not follow through.
The government is chief amongst the guilty, speaking appealing words but failing to back them up. This is summarised perfectly in a 2019 tweet from Jeremy Hunt, “Watching my son play his first matches with Milford Pumas, have just been approached by another Dad about problems accessing CAMHS...so much more to do on mental health really hope some of the extra NHS cash goes towards it”. Nice words that I’m sure Hunt knows people want to hear, but we are not so easily fooled. Twitter was quick to pick up on the fact that during his 6-year tenure as Health Secretary continuous cuts to health spending put ever-increasing pressure on mental health services, with a cut in mental health beds of 30% since 2010 and an 8% cut in budgets.
Speaking from personal experience, I myself was told I would have to wait over a year to be seen by CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), only being bumped forward on the waiting list due to consistent pressure from my parents stressing the urgency of my case. And despite the government’s claims of increased funding, I was told recently, 5 years later, I would still have to wait over 9 months to be seen by mental specialists to confirm my diagnosis and begin medication. Fortunately, I can wait this long, but for some, they cannot. For many, this wait is a death sentence. This also places an unbearable burden on parents, particularly working-class ones, who must decide whether to wait and hope their child will be seen in time before something terrible happens, or fork out money they do not have for private psychiatric treatments.
Whilst reducing stigma and providing adequate mental health care is vital, we as a society are not taking enough of a preventative approach. British people rank amongst the most depressed in the Western world, with rates of depression and anxiety around 1 in 6. We cannot ignore that our way of life and economic structure play an important role in this. Depression is seemingly more prevalent in countries with high levels of relative poverty and the media plays a huge role in feeding this. When people are struggling to sustain themselves but consistently being shown flashy goods, this contributes to their feelings of worthlessness. With people also working increasingly longer hours, the 9 to 5 workday is a thing of the past and people are increasingly losing their work-life balance.
Although the new EU health commissioner Stella Kyriakides’ mission letter lacked a much-needed focus on mental health, she has promised to work with other Commissioners to include mental health across different policy areas. However, the EU has consistently shown itself to be, like the UK government, an incredibly unradical institution. Radicalism is what we need to help, not only those currently struggling but prevent further suffering. Proposals such as a 4-day work week and an overhaul of our current education system to be more coursework based are what is needed to help rebalance people’s lives and make education less pressurised. Reducing stigma is important, greater funding is important. But, whilst hard and unappealing, a change to our societal structure is what is needed if we really want to deal with this. Words and speeches are no longer enough, action needs to be taken.
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