Plaid Cymru’s mental health hubs
Is this greater attention to mental health in politics part of a momentum that could alter nationwide election focus?
Plaid Cymru have announced that they will set up mental health hubs if they gain power next May. These would be placed across Wales to provide mental health support for young people not yet ill enough to require more advanced psychiatric treatment, offering counselling both by appointment and on a walk-in basis. It is a step towards a more even political interest in physical and mental wellbeing, but would they do enough to help?
Currently, young people seeking counselling have to join university or NHS waiting lists that are often months-long. This creates a socioeconomic divide in access to mental health treatment: those who can pay for private counselling are able to receive immediate support, whilst those who can’t are forced to suffer alone. This is of particular concern as those with a lower socioeconomic status already have a higher likelihood of experiencing mental health problems. Mental illness requires much more immediate care than the NHS is currently able to provide, meaning the lives of many are made incredibly difficult for months at a time whilst they await treatment. These hubs could change that, allowing people to receive emotional support as and when it is required.
The installation of mental health hubs in Wales could set a precedent for the rest of the UK
In addition, existing services offering unpaid emotional support may not appeal to everyone. Some people struggle to speak on the phone to services such as Samaritans, and would prefer to communicate about their problems in person. Listening volunteers are also not as thoroughly trained as qualified counsellors, who would be better equipped to treat mental illness in patients at the hubs. This could even reduce future costs to the NHS by teaching people coping strategies earlier, meaning they are better equipped to manage their mental health in later adulthood.
However, it could be argued that the advantage of accessing physical support is required above all by older generations, who are less likely to be capable of accessing digital and over-the-phone support for their mental health. This reveals one of the weaknesses of Plaid Cymru’s hubs: they currently only plan to provide support to young people.
The hubs could be an invaluable help to youth, but what about other groups who are disproportionately impacted by mental illness, such as refugees, the homeless and those part of the LGBTQ+ community? One can only hope that this policy will be a starting point, from which the service could be expanded to offer support to the wider Welsh population.
Plaid Cymru’s inclusion of hubs in their manifesto conveys a greater focus on mental health within politics. The installation of mental health hubs in Wales could set a precedent for the rest of the UK: much like the centres planned by Plaid Cymru have been created in the image of similar ones in New Zealand, initiating the set-up of hubs in Wales could lead the rest of the country to follow suit. Without doubt, the policy will help to involve the issue in more political discussions, which may also encourage much-needed consideration of the social issues that contribute to the increased mental illness these hubs aim to treat. It seems a real step in the right direction.