General election: mental health is rising up the policy agenda

7th Jun 2017
Influencing policies

The 2017 general election was billed as the Brexit election. But despite that focus, we continue to see mental health move up the political agenda and be recognised as one of the key challenges we face as a nation.

Evidence for this shift can be seen in the increase in mentions of mental health in the party manifestos. The Conservative Party’s 2015 general election manifesto carried five mentions, which rose to 35 in 2017. Labour’s 2015 manifesto mentioned mental health four times, rising to 13 in 2017. While each party has a slightly different focus and set of priorities, the overarching tone across the 2017 manifestos was that this challenge must be addressed head-on with real solutions delivered, not just discussed.

Importantly, mental health has been acknowledged in many manifestos as an issue that needs to be addressed across all government departments rather than just health, with policy pledges made across education, criminal justice and welfare, among others. This recognition begins to shine a light on the true scale of the challenge faced, and the resources required, to truly achieve parity between physical and mental health. It is vital that action comes from this rhetoric and that these pledges don’t remain ambitions.

The King's Fund published findings that in 2015/16, 40% of UK mental health trusts saw budgets cut with further funds being redirected to other areas of the NHS. Further to this, last year's Mental Health Taskforce report also stressed that issues of parity continued to plague mental health services. We urgently need our politicians to start looking upstream to the root causes of such alarming rates of mental ill-health at the same time as supporting good well-being.

Our latest report Surviving or Thriving? The state of the UK's mental health highlights the scale of the challenge we face at both a national, and local level. We know that nearly two-thirds of people say that they have experienced a mental health problem. This rises to 7 in every 10 women, young adults aged 18 to 34 and people living alone. We are deeply concerned that only a small minority of people (13%) report living with high levels of good mental health, strengthening our calls for a revolution in thinking about prevention.

Our policy asks for the next Prime Minister

In addition to the moral imperative for preventing people from needing to access mental health services, the economic case could not be stronger. It is estimated that mental health problems cost the UK economy £70 billion per year.

We warmly welcome pledges such as the Conservatives' ambition to train one million members of the public in basic mental health awareness and first aid to break the stigma of mental illness, as well as Labour’s focus on working with communities, civil society and business to reduce loneliness. Both of these policies importantly shift the debate from a focus on service provision, and look to address the root causes of poor well-being and mental health.

Our research has shown that arming the general public with the right information about mental health and well-being enables individuals to protect and sustain their own mental health, as well as those around them. The policies highlighted above are examples of real opportunities to target groups who face higher risk of mental health challenges, as well as the population, but for this to be a reality, we need this approach to be championed by our politicians after 8 June.

While it is encouraging to see cross-party mental health champions establishing themselves, we urgently need to see this rhetoric in action: true policy shifts that accurately identify and support the most vulnerable in our society at the same time as promoting and supporting good mental health for all. These are the grounds upon which we must hold the next government to account.

Related content

Policy and advocacy

Our policy and advocacy work calls on national and local government to reduce the factors known to pose a risk to people’s mental health, enhance those known to protect it and create the conditions needed for people to thrive.

Surviving or Thriving? The state of the UK's mental health

In March 2017, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation, NatCen conducted a survey amongst its panel members in England, Scotland and Wales.

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