The Future of Mental Health


Dr Andrew McCulloch, Chief Executive at the Mental Health Foundation:

"Today marks World Mental Health Day, an initiative that started twenty years ago with the aim of raising public awareness about mental health issues and promoting discussion of mental disorders and their treatment.

We have certainly come a long way in the last twenty years, both in terms of the scientific advances that have heralded new treatment options, and also in shifting public opinion that has meant that open discussion of mental health is no longer quite the taboo it used to be. Just in the last few months we have seen members of Parliament stand up in the House of Commons and discuss, openly and frankly, their own experiences of mental illness, to a broadly sympathetic and understanding reception from the media. But there is more work still to do, and the next twenty years will bring with them new and unprecedented demands on our shrinking mental health services.

Perhaps the main challenge in the next twenty years will be how we deal with the increase in our country's population and the increase in life expectancy that will partly underpin this. This will come at a time where, due to evermore pressing economic and environmental concerns, mental health may be pushed down the priority list for any future government. Despite this, we need to keep pushing the message that good mental health is absolutely fundamental to a healthy, happy and productive society and that, more importantly,  any neglect in this area could be hugely costly both socially and economically.

It is important to remain optimistic. Scientific advances will continue to inform our understanding of the brain and of psychological and social causes of mental illness. New, more effective treatment options will be researched and developed. This will be especially welcome for conditions like dementia which, in under ten years time will be affecting one million people in the UK.

With increased scientific understanding will come more focused investment in research, mental health promotion and treatment. It is inevitable that, as spending cuts continue, more emphasis will have to be on 'value-for-money' solutions, such as group psychotherapy and online cognitive behavioural therapy tools, but as time goes on these should become more nuanced and more effective.

I suspect that we will see less of a disconnection between physical and mental health, and more emphasis on the 'healthy body healthy mind' maxim, encapsulated in the current government's commitment to 'parity of esteem' between the two.

Above all I hope that we will see a population better equipped to look after its own mental health. We know that half of adult mental health problems are first identifiable in childhood so more investment in children and young people's health is vital - particularly now that we have more evidence than ever about the link between the economic crisis and the rise of mental illness.

Whatever the next twenty years may bring, I can be sure that the Mental Health Foundation will continue its fight to reduce the suffering caused by mental ill health and to help everyone lead mentally healthier lives."

Published 10 October 2012 |
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