The news that the University of York has secured £1 million of funding for mental health research should not simply be welcomed as a long awaited investment in this underfunded sector; instead we need to acknowledge that it reveals how truly misguided our approach to mental health is.
The funding forms part of the Police Knowledge Fund which aims to encourage collaboration between the Police and academics. The university’s funding will go towards a project to help frontline law enforcement officers identify “both victims and offenders who would benefit from accessing mental health services”.
From the offset this project appears to be rather a case of “closing the stable door after the horse has bolted”. Police involvement is an endpoint in an individual’s struggle with mental health problems. Injecting money and resources in at this point has the weakest impact upon recovery. What the mental health sector needs is funding and resources to provide services before the point where police involvement is necessary. Where is the funding for psychologists and therapists? Clearly this is an area that needs attention more than any other. It takes a great deal of courage and support for someone to reach out for help with mental health problems. A system must be in place to encourage this: a system where the services are freely available.
The current condition of mental health services on a national and local basis, even within the university itself, needs improvement. Once you reach the point where you are comfortable in reaching out for support the last thing that you need is a three week waiting list for assessments followed by a three month waiting list for therapy. I truly believe that a system which enables someone to get the help that they seek for themselves quickly, discretely and conscientiously will be of far greater benefit in the case of mental health problems than a police officer who can identify this individual who has subsequently attracted juridical attention.
As a society we require a cautious approach to our conduct where mental health is concerned. The emphasis must be placed on self-help and support otherwise we risk demonising mental health sufferers.
This news has highlighted society’s tendency to trivialise mental health and avoid acknowledging it until such time as the police are involved. This is fundamentally misguided. Front-line mental health services does not denote police officers, rather GPs and counsellors. This is where our money and resources needs to be directed. At the very least, the issues raised above need to be openly discussed to pave the way for investment and improved resource allocation.