How will mental health and wellbeing policy be addressed in Wales over the next Assembly term?

Wales goes to the polls this week to vote on the new Assembly Members (or AMs) who make decisions about key issues like health, social care, education and housing.

Addressing the mental health challenges of Wales has been a priority for all the political parties in the run up to the Welsh Assembly Elections, as we discovered in our analysis of the manifestos. But there are particular challenges that the Mental Health Foundation wants the next Welsh Government to address.

The Mental Health Foundation’s strategy calls for a shift towards prevention in mental health. You only have to look at the recent figures from an inquiry into child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) in Wales to understand why we need to be supporting our children and young people much earlier on as well as investing in children and young people’s services.

CAMHS referrals for treatment in Wales has doubled between April 2010 and July 2014 (from 1,204 to 2,342) with the number of referrals waiting for more than 18 weeks increasing almost five-fold during this period. Yet spend on children’s mental health services in Wales has been disproportionately low in comparison to adult mental health services.

When we launched our joint policy manifesto with Gofal last October, one of our priority areas included ‘supporting future generations’ – with policy asks including support to parents in pregnancy and early years and a number of policy asks for schools, colleges and universities. We asked for mental health and wellbeing to be imbedded in the curriculum in schools, following the publication of the Donaldson review in Wales and support and training for teachers in order to improve mental health literacy in Welsh schools.

Providing upstream support and embedding a public health approach to mental health and wellbeing at an early age will have a positive impact throughout people’s lives – from community participation to developing and sustaining positive relationships.

At the other end of the spectrum, the large older people population in Wales face particular barriers such as isolation (compounded by rural living for many) and inequitable access to mental health services. The current mental health delivery plan which has recently been out for consultation promises to address loneliness and isolation for older people in Wales but we also need to ensure that support adapts to meet older people’s mental health needs.

Despite the introduction of Part 1 of the Mental Health (Wales) Measure 2010, which places a legal duty on health boards to increase early access to primary care mental health services, people still experience long waits to access psychological support. Early access to talking therapies can prevent the worsening of distress and avoid the need for more acute services, which is why we made it a priority in our manifesto – we will be looking to the new Government to ensure that the psychological therapies plan is rolled out, as well as implementation of new targets on waiting times.

Development of the use of online interventions could also benefit people in rural areas or those who are less able to travel for other reasons (for example disability or poverty).

Mental health affects us all. We are delighted that all the political parties showed such determination to tackle mental health in Wales in the lead up to the elections this May. We look forward to working with the new Government and those in opposition to ensure promises are acted on.

In our joint policy manifesto with Gofal we asked for:

  • support future generations by promoting good mental health and wellbeing from an early age and providing training and support in schools, colleges and universities
  • improvements in access to psychological therapies in Wales
  • a reduction in inequalities faced by people with mental health problems and for groups that are at higher risk of developing mental health problems
  • tackling of the stigma and discrimination, especially in the workplace and in the health service
  • improvement in mental health funding and outcomes for people with mental health problems
  • cross-government action to improve mental health and wellbeing.