For too long mental health has been the invisible illness in society. Too often described as a case of ‘mind over matter’, mental health has been associated with stigma and discrimination affecting people of all ages in Britain. Half of those with mental health problems first experience symptoms in their early teens, a time when most of us struggle to cope with the natural changes to our body.
Although TV soap operas have made numerous attempts to highlight the issues associated with mental health, for many the fear of being seen as abnormal has kept the real issues out of sight and out of mind.
But the Government has today published an important document which is a step towards mental health being recognised as equally important as physical health in the well-being of our nation. No health without mental health: a cross-government mental health outcomes strategy for people of all ages, published by the Department of Health outlines new plans to tackle the underlying causes.
In keeping with the themes of the Government’s overall health reforms, the mental health outcomes strategy stresses the need for cross-departmental work to give all young people a good start in life and to improve the mental health of the whole nation. The NHS will further shift its attention from treatment to early intervention and prevention to secure better outcomes for people.
Interestingly there is no mention of medicines, including antidepressants, in the whole paper. Rather than focussing on pharmacological treatments, the Government has instead emphasised access to ‘talking therapies’ including cognitive behavioural therapies (CBT), counselling for depression, and interpersonal psychotherapy. An additional investment of £400million will fund these evidence-based psychological therapies over the next four years. One in four people will benefit from the funding at some point in their lifetime as mental health accounts for 23% of the total burden of ill health in the UK.
Mental health will be a key priority for Public Health England, the new national public health service, and at a local level, the new health and wellbeing boards and directors of public health will be expected to treat mental health as a priority. The strategy makes clear that commissioners should be aware of the knock-on effects of mental health outcomes on physical health outcomes, and not cut back on mental health services in the short term as efficiency savings are pursued.
What is undoubtedly welcome is the acknowledgement that good mental health is vital for our country’s well-being. Our physical health, our education, our relationships and our work are all affected by our mental health, and the plans released today will go some way to tackling the underlying causes that can have a negative impact on this aspect of our health.