A coalition of charities has published a report calling on political parties to address social problems such as poverty and inequality
"To truly tackle the mental health emergency, we need to focus on the causes, not just the effects. This long-term plan lays out the steps those in power need to take to help people to live mentally healthy lives and make sure support is there whenever they need it.” Dr Sarah Hughes, chief executive, Mind
Government should set out a 10-year plan to tackle issues such as poverty, poor housing and air pollution to improve the deteriorating mental health of people in England, a coalition of charities, thinktanks and staff groups has said.
The recommendations, from 35 organisations, are outlined in a report published by the Centre for Mental Health. The organisations include the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the counselling service Place2Be and children’s charities including the Children’s Society.
The plan set out in the report focuses on three areas: prevention, equality and support. It recommends a set of policies it wants government to adopt as part of a 10-year, cross-government mental health strategy, beginning in the first year of the next parliament. It calls on all political parties to include the ideas in their manifestos ahead of the next general election.
Preventative measures include addressing social determinants, like poverty and discrimination, and environmental factors, including housing and pollution. “Investing in more powerful public health infrastructure is also key to preventing illness and promoting better health,” the report says.
The report notes that discrimination and disadvantage mean that risks to mental health are much higher in some groups. It says that building a mentally healthier nation “requires concerted action to tackle these inequalities and close the health gaps between different groups.”
It adds that everyone should be able to get “timely access to local mental health services when they first need them.” By properly resourcing these services, minimising the use of coercion and widening access, it says, “we can majorly improve people’s mental health outcomes.”
The report warns ministers that the increased number of people struggling with their mental health is causing “preventable misery, death, demand on stretched services, lost economic productivity and costs of tens of billions of pounds”.
Andy Bell, chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said: “The public’s mental health has deteriorated since the start of this decade. More and more people are seeking help for their mental health. Even with recent growth in NHS mental health services, care is being rationed because the system is overwhelmed. We have to turn this around. A comprehensive cross-government plan could help to improve the nation’s mental health while also boosting mental health services. It could tackle the causes of distress to protect people’s mental health, while also ensuring people living with a mental health difficulty are treated fairly in society. This cannot wait. We call on the Government to act now and on all political parties at the next general election to commit to a long-term plan to create better mental health for all.”
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Other measures the report says should be part of the 10-year plan include:
Dr Sarah Hughes, chief executive of Mind, said: “An unprecedented number of people are struggling with their mental health, and support services in England are on their knees. A severe lack of funding, which has built up over many years, means that record numbers of people are waiting for the treatment they need. As a result, more and more people are reaching crisis point. To truly tackle the mental health emergency, we need to focus on the causes, not just the effects. This long-term plan lays out the steps those in power need to take to help people to live mentally healthy lives and make sure support is there whenever they need it.”
The number of people experiencing mental health problems has increased sharply in the past few years, with 8.2m people in England now living with at least one mental health condition, such as anxiety and depression. There are a number of possible causes for the increase, including the trauma related to the effect of the pandemic, but the cost-of-living crisis and shortage of good quality housing are also likely contributors. The organisations involved in the report are right to say that addressing poverty and environmental problems must be a priority if we are to tackle rising rates of mental ill-health.