There are 700,000 autistic people in Britain today, with 70% of autistic children and 80% of autistic adults affected by mental health issues. Despite this, many autistic people struggle to get access to appropriate mental health services.
This is an issue which has been thrown into sharp relief recently by comments from Professor Francesca Happé, director of the Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre at King’s College, London, which highlighted the gendered nature of autism diagnosis and access to mental health services in the UK.
Professor Happé stated that thousands of girls and women with autism aren’t being diagnosed, as autism is seen as a ‘male condition’. Professor Happé went on to state that the failure to diagnose autism in girls and women was having a significant impact on their mental health.
One of the main issues is that many GPs do not have appropriate training for dealing with autistic people. As GPs are the principal providers of primary care, and manage referrals to other services, this is a significant problem.
Another issue is that CAMHS turn down appointments for young people with autism who are seen as “too challenging”, and when services are accessed, they often do not account for particular needs, for example providing rooms which are too bright for comfort or referring patients to inappropriate therapy services.
More widely, I am concerned that research by the Royal College of Psychiatrists shows that mental health services have less money to spend on patient care in real terms than they did in 2012 and more than a quarter of CCGs underspent their mental health budgets last year.
The Government make many claims about the funds that they have pledged to mental health services, yet it is clear that the money is not reaching the frontline. The Government have long promised to introduce parity of esteem between physical and mental health, yet this just looks like empty words when ministers have made real terms funding cuts to mental health services.
It has long been clear that this Government doesn’t treat mental health with the importance it deserves. There must be proper action, not just more empty words, so that appropriate mental health services can be provided to autistic people and all others who need them.