Preventing mental ill health: time to take action

26 July 2016

There are times throughout all of our lives when we are likely to run into difficulty, particularly at life’s pressure points: the crucial times of transition from one life stage to another. From moving away from home for university, to having children or dealing with the loss of a loved one.

If we are to rise to the challenge of reducing the prevalence of mental health problems, we need to be stepping in at these pressure points, taking preventative measures that can support people through times of difficulty and stop mental health problems from developing in the first place. This will require a societal shift, we will need to begin truly recognising good mental health as a universal asset to be strengthened and protected. We can no longer afford to wait for mental health problems to develop before taking action.

The effective support of people experiencing mental health problems is set to become one of the greatest public health challenges of this decade. Without action on the increasing demand for public services, it will not be possible to absorb the rising costs of providing care and support for those experiencing mental ill health in the long term. We need to act decisively as we have in the past when faced with significant risks to public health.

'It is essential that we also draw our attention to preventative approaches so that illness is a rarer event.'

The historical approaches to curing illness and responding in crises has left a legacy of health services designed to fix problems. While access to good quality mental health services and support must continue to improve and rapidly, it is essential that we also draw our attention to preventative approaches so that illness is a rarer event, both in recognition of the economic costs and also in the sometimes devastating personal impact resulting from poor mental health and mental health problems.

Today the Mental Health Foundation published Mental health and prevention: taking local action for better mental health, a report produced with Public Health England which lays out a road map for bringing about a prevention revolution in mental health, delivered in every local area. In addition to the strong theme of mental health across the life-course, taking every opportunity to step in early and prevent the development of mental health problems, the need to improve the mental health knowledge and literacy of the entire public service workforce is highlighted.

Integrating mental health improvement into daily work

This radically different approach encourages all health and social care staff to consider the impact of mental health inequalities and act to reduce them. Staff must react to these inequalities in line with the principles of ‘proportionate universalism’, an approach that progressively applies resources where the greatest risks lie. In practical terms, this means integrating mental health improvement into daily work, with messages and interventions tailored to meet specific needs of those at highest risk of developing mental health problems.

We need to ensure that high-quality services are both available and easily accessible for those that need them most, while also intervening early to reduce the need for specialist support. We can achieve this by giving individuals, families and communities, the tools to protect and manage their own mental health.

This will only ever be achieved by working alongside communities, listening to people’s stories of lived experience to understand what impacts their mental health and what tools they need.

Read Mental health and prevention: taking local action for better mental health