Mental health is an open goal for the next Prime Minister
History’s great political leaders have recognised the fundamental changes needed in society for people to flourish.
The current political environment presents a myriad of priorities for the next Prime Minister, from Brexit, to social care, to climate change. While our country is more divided than ever, progress on mental health represents an issue that could unite us behind a common cause. But despite unprecedented public interest, Theresa May’s recent commitments, and the mounting evidence on the physical, social and economic impact that poor mental health is having on our nation, the contenders for PM have maintained a deafening silence on mental health.
The cost of poor mental health is clear: almost three quarters of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetime leading to an annual cost of almost £100bn to our economy. But the opportunity is greater: good mental health enables us to fulfil our potential as individuals, as families, as communities and as a society. And the opportunities for improving our mental health are manifold: alongside improving mental health services, a focus on prevention is the key to unlocking our collective potential (which would cascade through generations).
Grasping the opportunity to make an enduring difference on mental health has the unusual virtue of both being socially just and electorally smart. Mental health is an issue that commands interest across the political spectrum. Outside of the Brexit negotiations, progress on mental health would contribute decisively to all the issues the UK public care most about – health, education, crime and the economy.
Today, the Mental Health Policy Group, an alliance of six national charities working together to improve mental health, has written to Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson calling on them to commit to taking action to improve mental health, as set out in our new manifesto “Towards Mental Health Equality”.
Below we suggest the clear opportunities the new PM can take to transform our nation’s mental health.
A cross-government plan for mental health to complement the NHS Long Term Plan
Improving the nation’s mental health goes beyond the health service. As a priority, the new PM should set out a new cross-government plan for mental health, embedding a “mental health in all policies approach” and including commitments in areas such as criminal justice, housing, education and social care. This should be overseen by a Mental Health Cabinet Committee, ensuring that all new and existing policies are designed to benefit everyone’s mental health and improve the lives of people with mental health problems.
The new Prime Minister should not only improve mental health services, but lead the world in having an equal focus on prevention. This would mean action to ensure that every school, higher and further education student receives mental health literacy lessons at every stage of their education and can get early support through their education provider. It would mean the expansion of evidence-based parent support programmes, the development of self-management programmes to help parents with mental health problems and include support for their children.
At the local level, every local authority now has a suicide prevention plan and many have a plan for better mental health. The new PM needs to ensure these plans lead to meaningful local action. Employers have a growing interest in mental health but need evidence-based guidance and incentives to support the mental wellbeing of their staff.
The goal is wide open also to deliver a historic reform of the Mental Health Act. The Mental Health Act Review made recommendations for legislation to reform the Act and close the gap in experiences and outcomes of different ethnic groups. The new Prime Minster must make sure this happens. To support the reforms, the government must invest in staff, and build facilities that are fit for the 21st century.
Good mental health is not an optional extra. Nothing is more important than maintaining and improving the mental health of the country. Investing in good mental health will have hugely positive effects if we get it right, and we can’t afford to get it wrong. The public knows this. The mental health goal is wide open. Will the next PM take the opportunity?
A manifesto for the next prime minister
In this manifesto, we set out five areas that the next Prime Minister must address in order to improve the lives of people with mental health problems and promote the mental health of the nation.