The Cost of Austerity

Last week I spoke on Sky News about the Austerity Britain report which surveyed 300 GPs across the UK to gauge their opinion on what impact the recession is having on their patients' health. 77% of the GPs believed they had seen an increase in patients with mental health illnesses in the last four years, with anxiety being slightly more prevalent than depression.

We all know that worrying about things, and occassionally feeling stressed, are part of the normal ups and downs of life. But it is when stress starts to have an adverse impact on people’s lives day in, day out, that problems can begin to occur, and this latest evidence is a clear pointer to an increasing problem.

This is particularly worrying at a time where the recession itself is impacting on resources through cuts in local authority social care and restrictions on NHS funding.

One part of the report I found particularly worrying was that around 60% of GPs said they did not have sufficient treatments to deal with the problem; and that 95% said they needed longer appointment times if mental health needs were to be properly discussed with patients. Mental health problems can't be diagnosed with simple physical examinations or blood tests – it can take time to get to the root of the problem and this relies on an effective dialogue between the doctor and patient.. Once a diagnosis has been made we also need to make sure there are quick and effective responses to people who do need help. This means discussing a range of options with the patient, which might be medication or talking therapies such as counselling and CBT, treatments. These can be very successful but are unfortunately subject to long waiting lists in certain parts of the country.

Another concern in these recent findings is the effect that the recession is having on physical health. It's becoming more and more evident that physical and mental health are very closely connected and that the 'healthy body healthy mind' maxim has a lot of firm evidence to support it. It is worrying then, that a majority of GPs surveyed believed patients were cancelling sporting activities to save money or because of increased pressures at work.

So what does this report mean for the future? Well clearly, we need to start thinking long-term. In particular, we need to make sure we invest in children and young people’s mental health. We know that around half of adult mental health problems are first identifiable in childhood – so if we manage to create a nation of resilient, emotionally healthy children we will significantly reduce mental health problems later in life. The economy is bound to have its ups and downs in years to come. We must not only provide support to people in the current recession, but build people’s emotional resilience for if, or indeed when, recession occurs again.