Make a pledge for Mental Health Awareness Week

What is most important to someone with a mental health problem? The same things which are as important to everyone else:  a decent place to live, a job, good quality relationships.

That is what we heard from the 20,000 people who contributed to our Mental Health Forward View.

It is, of course, no secret that relationships play an important role in our health and wellbeing. Social isolation is a risk factor for poor mental health, and can make existing mental health problems worse.

Health services have a role to play in supporting people within them to maintain and build their relationships – for mental health services particularly every person should be able to say: “Services understand the importance to me of having friends, opportunities and close relationships.”

Again, this seems obvious – but if the only option for treatment is far from home then relationships are harder to maintain, and likewise if physical and mental health services are not integrated people spend all their time at health appointments.

The Mental Health Forward view sets out a challenging set of transformational commitments for mental health. They include new waiting times standards, expanding existing services and transforming the way care is delivered.

Amongst this broad work programme it might be easy to lose the importance of relationships: between people using services and their clinicians, between NHS staff, between all of us and our families and communities. But relationships are the glue that holds us all together – evidence shows the importance of our relationships at work, as well as with friends, families and communities.

I am determined that the changes we are supporting in mental health lead to better relationships, and better conversations about relationships across the NHS.

In our team we recruit according to both values and skills, setting out our stall for the kind of environment and relationships we want to build. We then try to maintain these relationships, even when it feels like the volume of work doesn’t leave space for them. We also understand that people bring their home to work, just as we bring work home – and so do as much as we can to enable colleagues to cherish their relationships, and support them if they have difficulties.

Of course, some of us will have mental health problems – and it’s vital that we can access support quickly and without stigma. In my team I make clear that being unwell with a mental health problem is no different to having a broken leg, and we  talk about our mental health to try to encourage an open environment.

The Mental Health Foundation is collecting relationships resolutions this week. Mine will be to make more effort with those I find tricky. I shall be seeking tips!

I encourage you to make a resolution as well – how will you make a difference this week and support your own mental health? Will you phone that friend who you have been meaning to call for months? Will you see your family for Sunday roast?

Karen Turner

Karen Turner was appointed Director of Mental Health for NHS England in July 2015 to provide leadership and oversight of mental health in the NHS – a priority for NHS England. Before this she worked for over 30 years in health: her career has included time in hospitals, health and local authorities, regions and the Department of Health where she worked in the Teenage Pregnancy Unit and on children’s and mental health policy.