London Mayoral election: focus on mental health

Tackling mental health challenges in London has been identified as a priority for the London Health Board but exactly how the next Mayor of London will take this on in policy terms remains to be seen.

Historically, mental health has not been on the Mayor’s agenda but it is clear that to create a vibrant and successful capital, a public health approach should be a priority for the new Mayor. What is needed is a collective vision to implement system-wide change and the Mayor has the power to achieve this. The Mayor can bring together stakeholders from across London to explore and support core factors influencing London’s wellbeing.

Preventative mental health strategy

In London, around £7.5 billion is spent annually on mental health services, with wider social, economic and health impacts estimated to cost around £26 billion. The next Mayor of London needs to demonstrate their drive to transform people’s health outcomes by shifting the focus upstream. A preventative mental health strategy needs to be developed, fully resourced and implemented across the capital with the Mayor of London acting as a figurehead leading this change.

This strategy should have a clear focus on mental health inequalities. Health inequalities across London are vast and growing and have a direct correlation with poor mental health.

In addition to the moral imperative to supporting mental wellbeing, there are stark financial costs to the public purse as well as the wider economy. Rates of mental health problems are highest in the most deprived areas of London. This is a correlation that the Mayor should not ignore as more than half of London’s boroughs are in the top 30% most deprived in England, reaffirming the need to tackle mental health inequalities, and to roll out a comprehensive public mental health programme in coordination across all public services including health, social care, education and housing.

Housing

As London’s housing crisis has dominated the 2016 debate for the majority of candidates, we would like to see the next Mayor recognise that having a safe and warm shelter is fundamental to our mental health and wellbeing, enshrining this in policy.

Poor housing and homelessness increase the risk of poor mental health, severe ill health and disability, lower educational attainment, long-term unemployment and poverty and it is within the power of the Mayor to address this.

The current Mayor, Boris Johnson, demonstrated an array of informal “soft power” to begin to address the mental health challenges in the capital. Johnson developed the report, London Mental Health: The invisible costs of mental ill health, which explored the scale and scope of mental ill health in London.

Johnson went on to commission a report on how business leaders across the capital perceived mental health, and what good support from employers looks like. His recognition of mental wellbeing can also be seen through programmes such as the Transport Action Plan and the Healthy School Programme.

He has demonstrated that it is now firmly within the capacity of the Mayor to direct real change and we would like to see the next Mayor build on from this foundation and place mental wellbeing firmly at the centre of their agenda.

Diversity

London is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, illustrated by the 300 languages within its schools and more than 50 non-indigenous communities with a population of more than 10,000 each. It is of the utmost importance that the next Mayor of London supports communities across London, providing them with the necessary information and support needed to prevent mental health problems developing.

While the role and scope of Mayoral responsibilities now touches on areas of mental health, the focus has remained on the downstream treatment of mental ill health as opposed to improving mental wellbeing across communities, and society as a whole.

The new Mayor needs to implement a tailored and flexible Prevention Agenda that is a reflection of the capitals diversity and the need to invest the resources available to support community’s wellbeing and influence long-term change, working in an integrated fashion across London’s boroughs, its public services, businesses, third sector and citizens’ organisations as well central government to achieve real change.

Twelve candidates are running in the election on 5 May, of which eight published manifestos. We have undertaken an analysis of the manifestos to explore and outline their key pledges and how each candidate will look to address the mental wellbeing of Londoners.

Read our manifesto analysis

Our five policy asks for the next Mayor of London

  • Develop a public mental health strategy to embed Mental Health in All Policies, systems and services.
  • Adopt the whole-community approach to prevention in mental health, beginning with the most deprived borough.
  • Initiate a mental health literacy programme in partnership with NHS England and other public employers of the London public workforce so that they can make every contact count to improve mental health across the capital. The aim is to encourage open and informed conversations to support mentally healthy lives and communities across the capital.
  • Address the pressures that poor, insecure and unaffordable housing or homelessness place on the mental health of Londoners and their families.
  • Lead a comprehensive initiative that addresses mental health inequalities, the unequal lives experienced by people with mental health problems and their families, and the mental health impact of inequalities including poverty.