In my two years as NHS England’s national clinical director for mental health I have been lucky enough to see enormous progress.
That progress is due to an army of leaders who have pushed mental health further up the political agenda and into the public consciousness than we have ever seen before. Crucially these leaders, who I celebrate, are not just medical professionals but service users, carers, charities, commissioners, academics, local and national politicians and many others.
The prominence and integration of mental health in the NHS Five Year Forward View is testament to how far we have come and sets out the next policy steps.
It continues the momentum our army of leaders has created and has also led to the establishment of the Deputy Prime Minister’s mental health taskforce and the children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing taskforce. This cross-government work will support improved prevention and early intervention particularly in those critical early years when 75 per cent of lifetime mental illness first occurs.
Ministers, experts and service users talking to each other about mental health policy is, of course, to be welcomed but what is also needed is urgent action to make improvements in service.
The most significant recent action we are taking is to introduce access and waiting time standards for mental health delivering on the policy objective of working towards creating ‘parity of esteem’.
Applying these standards will mean that everyone who needs care gets the right support at the right time. Measures to meet these standards in the coming financial year will be paid for with £40m to support implementation of the early intervention in psychosis standard, £10m to support the Increasing Access to Psychological Therapy standard and £30m targeted to support the development of liaison mental health services. In addition £30m for the next five years has been committed to improve timely access to evidence-based community eating disorder services.
Ending low levels of access to effective care and treatments for so many people who live their lives in distress and despair will prevent unnecessary suffering and spending downstream. I have written at greater length about this in an earlier NHS England blog.
To be effective action like this needs to be based on good evidence, information and intelligence. That is why we started, and have continued to develop, the National Mental Health, Dementia and Neurology Intelligence Network. Improving data, intelligence and using it to improve services will be a major area of development in the coming months and years.
In NHS England our area teams, strategic clinical networks, academic health science networks and collaborations for applied health research and care are working on new discovery but also, very critically now, to help translate their research findings into the language that will inform the public of the exciting work.
A public that is informed about mental health is one that we can conscript into our army. The Time to Change programme has made an excellent progress in this with stigma decreasing and public understanding growing.
We now need to build on this with public education and health literacy to build more understanding of how to build positive mental health and promote resilience.
An educated public is a good place to start for a serious drive on preventative work which needs to follow a life course approach enabling the best support to be available at all stages of life from perinatal, through childhood and adolescence, adulthood and old age.
The basis of positive mental health is growing up in a nurturing home and community free from abuse, neglect and bullying. Supporting parents with better perinatal mental health care and parenting programmes will help support children to fulfil their potential at school where social and emotional education is shown to be hugely beneficial.
If children do develop a mental health problem, and one in 10 of them do, then that needs to be recognised by trained teachers, school nurses and health visitors. Currently only one-in-four of children with a mental health problem get any professional help and we have to work to ensure that they get the help at the right time.
In adulthood work can be both a protective factor and a potential source of stress and distress that can lead to illness. We need to support people at higher risk into supportive employment and make sure all employers know how to look after their employees properly to the mutual benefit of everyone.
Better understanding of mental health will help us promote positive mental health and wellbeing reducing the frequency and severity of illness and freeing up services to support people who need help as early and effectively as possible. Our new access standards will help us to do that and is just the start of a transformation of mental health services into a valued and integral part of the wider system as set out in the Five Year Forward View
We have had two years of making unprecedented progress in mental health. We have to continue this pace and scale over the next 10 years to redress decades, if not centuries, of stigma and ignorance about mental health.
Mental illness has preventable causes, we have highly effective and cost effective treatments and we have the economic evidence that investing in mental health nearly saves literally billions of pounds and transform lives.
Let’s get out and make the transformation that is so overdue.
- Dr Geraldine Strathdee is NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Mental Health. This blog is taken from an address she gave to a Westminster Health Forum Keynote Seminar: Next steps for mental health – funding, resources and policy priorities.