Mental health sector overhaul
You don’t have to look too hard to find articles recounting tragic and avoidable situations where people have been let down by mental health services in the UK. It is extremely easy, and accurate to attribute blame to chronic underfunding by our government, but is that the sole problem?
A couple of weeks ago my university department held an online career workshop where professionals from the mental health sector spoke about the roles they fulfil in their jobs and the pathways that got them there. Overall, it was a greatly beneficial and interesting afternoon. If you are currently or are going to be a university student I highly recommend attending any that your institute may hold.
However, the overwhelming takeaway that I have is one of dejection and frustration with how inaccessible a lot of important job roles are within mental health. Let me preface this by clarifying that I fully support having highly trained, professional individuals providing the highest levels of care and treatment for vulnerable individuals, and I am in no way advocating for a similar system to that which is used to hire carers. That would be a disaster.
The majority of speakers at the career workshop spoke about their aspirations to become qualified psychologists in various specialities, from forensic to clinical to child and adolescent psychology. Only one of those speakers actually held the title of Doctor of Psychology and therefore could call themselves a psychologist. Obviously, when these stories were told, it raised questions about why they stopped their studies. Did they change their mind? Was there a change in circumstances? Maybe they simply couldn’t handle the pressure and workload?
Unfortunately, the answer was inevitable: I couldn’t afford it. The fact of the matter is, if you are not from a wealthy family, to begin with, it is almost impossible to fund education all the way to becoming a psychologist. And even then, holding the position of psychologist costs almost as much as the average person pays in rent each month. There are membership fees to be paid, endless professional development courses to undertake to ensure your knowledge is up to date which isn’t free, there is insurance, conferences, and all of this is without having to fund your PsyD.
Funding is needed urgently
The elitism of psychology as a career path has multiple implications for the quality of mental health care that we can hope to provide in this country. Starting with funding, let’s say our government has an epiphany and suddenly decides to pump as much money as is necessary into providing adequate mental health care.
You’ve got improved facilities in more locations around the country, but there’s a new problem: they’re all sitting empty because no one can afford to become a psychologist. You might say that we could fill them with therapists and counsellors, but they all need a qualified psychologist to report to in case they end up in over their heads.
Let’s say that suddenly those that can afford to follow the educational path to becoming a psychologist do just that and we do end up with enough qualified individuals to fill all new openings, you’d have a country filled with Frasiers. For any career, but especially ones in which connecting and understanding another human being’s point of view is paramount, you need people from all different backgrounds.
You need religious psychologists, LGBTQ+ psychologists, BAME psychologists, psychologists from underprivileged backgrounds. If a psychologist cannot understand where a patient is coming from and empathise with their worldview, they will not be able to be effective at their job.
While we desperately need more funding for the mental health sector, we also urgently need to overhaul the entry into the career so that it is accessible to all backgrounds, to every tax bracket, to every person who is passionate about helping people live the healthiest, happiest lives that they can.
I don’t know exactly how we can change this while still ensuring vulnerable patients are safeguarded but it is certainly an important conversation to start and one that needs to happen alongside any funding increases. We owe people a future where mental health treatment and support is accessible to all and that cannot be done without proper staffing.