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Leytonstone attack; the consequence of Tory cuts to mental health services

Earlier this month, people were horrified to hear of a potential ‘terrorist’ attack taking place at Leytonstone underground station. Reports suggest attacker Muhaydin Mire wielded a knife before uttering ‘this is for Syria’ and attacking members of the public. It is important to note that all intelligence suggests this was not an attack affiliated to any terrorist organisation, and was simply a ‘lone wolf’ attack. Although it would be foolish to suggest that Islamic fundamentalist propaganda didn’t win over the mind of Mire, thus contributing to the attack (extremist material was found on his mobile phone), it is also imperative to emphasise how easily this tragedy could have been prevented.

Media reports infer that Muhaydin Mire had a history of mental health problems and spent three months in hospital after being diagnosed in 2007. In fact, members of his family were conducting media interviews shortly after the attack claiming that they warned the police three weeks ago about his irrational behaviour, claiming that we was “talking nonsense” and telling them that he’d seen “demons”. Former Home Office adviser Jahan Mahmood spoke to The Independent recently, citing a mixture of many young Muslims ‘feeling alienated by their traditional families’ and a sharp rise in Islamophobia leaving young Muslims “disillusioned and isolated” which leaves a huge “breeding ground for depression and mental problems”.

This begs the question; why wasn’t he given the proper attention that we’d want one of our family members to have? The destruction of mental health services across the country over the last five years are leaving those with mental health problems in the dark, isolated and lacking the support that they desperately need. Muhaydin Mire represents a catastrophic Conservative mental health policy failure, yet is only the tip of the iceberg.

Over the last five years, we’ve seen an 8% decrease in real term funding for mental health services. That statistic seems damning enough, but over the last five years there has actually been a 20% increase in demand for these services. It is staggering how this Conservative government are forcing the NHS to do more with less. Not only has the demand for services sky-rocketed, but male suicide rates are the highest they’ve been since 2001, and for males between the ages of 45 and 60, rates have surpassed previous record levels in 1981. It is important to note that despite not being causal, the simple correlation between the implementation of austerity and this staggering rise in mental health complications is mind numbing.  After the financial crisis in 2008 and the austerity agenda the Tories and other countries in the European Union pursued, anti-depressant prescriptions went up 19% between 2007 and 2010, and since then have gone up by as much as 43% in one year.

The statistics paint a grim picture for those suffering with mental health problems in this country. Alongside vital services being cut to the bone, austerity is destroying their sense of community and financial security, creating a sense of fear, isolation, insecurity and mistrust. Psychologists across the country have offered credence to this claim by appealing directly to the government to stop further implementation of toxic austerity policies.

Leytonstone was not solely a terrorist problem, or a reprisal attack for the House of Commons voting for intervention in Syria, but a consequence of devastating mental health cuts which are not only isolating vulnerable Muslim men but the entire population.

If we are to put a halt to so-called ‘lone wolf’ attacks, we must first invest in mental health care to ensure that nobody slips through the net.

The Conservatives must listen to the experts. They are creating a mental health crisis, but are astonishingly refusing to fix it.

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