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It is a deep and profound task to be the Vice-Chair of the Mental Health Taskforce for England.
I take seriously the mandate given by the people who responded to the call for evidence, by completing the online survey run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, or by submitting something in writing to the Mental Health Taskforce inbox.
While the task is urgent and enormous – some are grumpily saying that it is impossible, even – I fundamentally believe it is absolutely possible to transform mental health outcomes across the NHS.
People are absolutely fed up with having their minds and bodies being treated as if they were disconnected, or as if mental health lacks importance. We must end approaches which don’t encourage integration and our services must respond to the needs of our communities. Anything else puts our NHS at risk of not being worthy of the 21st century.
Where there is will, there is always a way – so surely by 2020 we can at least apply what we already know. We must be SMART, clear and precise about what needs to be put in place between now and 2020 to really make change happen, recognising that each step will take us closer to realising our vision.
Effort must be both individual and concerted, and the days of working in silos must end. We need our leadership from the front, as well as the top – and from each person, in every position within and across the system. Anything less than integration, as well as multi-disciplinary and networked working, is not fit for purpose.
I have met such incredible leaders up and down the country. This includes experts-by-experience, people in primary care, acute services, education, voluntary sector, social enterprises, departments in Government, the police and many other interested parties. In the midst of all of these great people with passion and verve, I ask myself – why have we not gotten further already? Why are things so backward, when we have known for so long so much of what we need to do?
My experience tells me that we need to be far less defensive about what has gone wrong and much more open to the identification of solutions and their implementation. This is especially pertinent when it comes to the subject of equalities.”
I think we need to be bold, imaginative, resourceful and persistently challenging. I think we need to spend our energy on identifying the levers within our grasp, each and every one of us, to ensure that our mental health is valued equally with our physical health. Anything less is incongruent to our humanity.
My role on the Taskforce is not about me, but to act as a catalyst and reminder that we must not lose sight of our purpose. This purpose is the opportunity to improve outcomes for our brothers, sisters and neighbours, when they are at their most vulnerable. This purpose is to prevent unnecessary illness when we can, through equipping people of all ages, from cradle to the grave, with the means to gain self-awareness to self-manage. This purpose is to enable access to immediate support when people need it. We simply cannot afford, economically or psychologically, for people only to be heard when they are in crisis. The cost is simply too great.
We are all responsible for implementing the outcomes of this Taskforce, and I can tell you straight that I am closely observing each and every person I meet, every step of the way. It is so important that we all understand and respond to the message that mental health is everyone’s business.
I’m scared too. I feel deeply vulnerable as an expert-by-experience, that we might not be able to really make change happen, simply because we revert to default positions where people tinker around the edges and don’t create the visible, tangible and meaningful changes our communities need. Because when it comes to mental health, we do this so often. We write such fantastic policies and documents – there can be no better library in the known world about mental health improvements – but we don’t systematically ensure implementation is embedded.
Something about our modus operandi and cultures has led us down a different track – one where even if a mentally ill person presents at an acute setting, that aspect of their need is sometimes invisible to us! We have to take ownership for this level of disconnect – if we do not, once again nothing will change – we will again succumb to the blame culture: it wasn’t me…
So the question on my mind right now is – who in our system will be the early adopters, along with so many others who are desperate to make positive change happen?
Responsibility and accountability are key to the work resulting from the Mental Health Taskforce.