View from the chamber: It’s time we made mental health a priority

Cllr Luke Cawley-Harrison is concerned about residents' mental health during lockdown.

Cllr Luke Cawley-Harrison is concerned about residents' mental health during lockdown. - Credit: Archant

In 2018, there were 22,752 adults diagnosed with depression or anxiety or both registered with Haringey GP practices.

That is more than one in 10 adults. But the additional societal impacts the pandemic has brought bereavements, hospitalisations, anxiety, isolation, home working, caring responsibilities, and more; has led to spiralling numbers of people experiencing mental health problems.

A recent survey found that the share of the population experiencing psychological distress rose from 19.4 per cent between 2017 and 2019 to 30.3pc in April 2020. And should the UK experience a recession like that of 2008 an extra half a million people will experience a mental health difficulty.

Mental health is often considered an NHS responsibility. However, time has come for Haringey Council as the public health authority to play a greater role. Last financial year, just 1pc of Haringey’s public health spend was on improving mental health. That needs to rise.

It is time mental health and wellbeing was made a priority of local authorities. There is clear evidence that access to high-quality green space reduces rates of anxiety and depression, and that, compared to those who drive to work, people who walk or cycle had “improved mental wellbeing in a number of areas.” Therefore, the council should mandate that mental health is an assessment point in decisions that alter our local environment, look to make walking and cycling easier, significantly increase urban greenery, and ensure everyone has access to decent open spaces.

Despite our tough financial times, the council must also resist the temptation to cut its grants to community groups, clubs, and teams. During lockdown, the number of adults who said they had felt lonely in the past fortnight jumped from one in 10 to one in four, making these organisations even more vital. The ability to interact and relax with others cannot become a victim of this crisis.

Whilst the council must play its role, often the biggest act of support can come from each of us. We know that even small conversations can have a large impact on wellbeing, and that the act of asking how someone is decreases the risk of suicide amongst those dealing with depression, which may be invisible even to those they are closest to. So, as social restrictions look like they will be tightened again over the coming months, consider checking in on those you know and asking if someone is ok, you really could be helping someone in crisis.