Social care: managing the nation's mental health

23/06/2021

Mental health social care in England is facing a huge challenge which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. In this blog, Alex from our campaigns team delves deeper into why mental health social care is so essential, and what we want the government to do to better support people severely affected by mental illness.

What is mental health social care?

When you think about the kind of support people living with severe mental illness need, what comes to mind? Often the first thing is clinical care and treatment. While this is vital, less well known is mental health social care – the support people need in their community to help them live ordinary and fulfilled lives.

People living with severe mental illness face additional barriers in life, which can make it difficult to carry out day-to-day tasks and activities that most of us take for granted, such as keeping the house clean, managing bills and getting out of the house to socialise. This can in-turn make them more unwell, stifle their recovery or lead to a relapse. Valarie, who cares for her son told us that:

without social care support his house would have gone to pieces and he would completely withdraw”.

There is also the added challenge of living in a society where mental health stigma and discrimination still exists. This can affect many areas of a person’s life including their employment prospects. The support provided via social care helps to tackle these issues.

As someone who receives this support, Isaac told us:

“it levels the playing field so that even the most severely unwell in our society are able to lead ordinary and fulfilling lives - just like everybody else.”

A mental health social care support package for someone living with mental illness should be personalised to each individual, but might include help with:

  • taking medication
  • keeping the house clean and tidy
  • managing personal finances
  • getting outside in the community
  • taking part in local activities
  • finding work.

The reality is that social care services which provide the support described here are chronically underfunded as many local authorities are facing a funding crisis.

Nicola Hall manages a Rethink Mental Illness employment service and told us:

“Funding cuts have been happening for years, even though the need is there and is increasing.  People end up becoming more unwell and that puts more of the burden on the NHS”.

Managing the transition out of the pandemic and “building back better” continue to be the government’s stated priorities. These broad aims are important, however, we continue to see missed opportunities to respond to Covid-19’s extensive impact on the nation’s mental health and wellbeing.

The Queen’s Speech in May did not confirm crucial details of reforming the adult social care system which would provide the blueprint for a vital overhaul of the sector, and instead, kicked the can further down the road. Every delay means that more elderly and disabled people, families, and carers are being left to struggle.

What do we want the government to do?

It’s clear that reform of the entire social care system is long overdue but we now have an opportunity to affect change ahead of the Autumn Spending review when the Government decides how it will spend its money over the next year.

That’s why we are calling on the government to invest £1.1 billion into mental health social care and to deliver a funding model that meets the needs of people severely affected by mental illness. This could include training up more staff, which would also help towards supporting unpaid carers and would lead to fewer costly hospital admissions.

But ultimately, it means a better quality of life - and that’s the bottom line. Over the next few months, we’ll be working tirelessly to get mental health social care on the government’s agenda.

If you would like to get updates and find out how you can get involved, sign up to our mailing list here or email us at campaigns@rethink.org.

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