A new social contract: for a mentally healthier society

Covid-19 has changed the world. It has brought despair to individuals, families and communities, leaving many people feeling unsafe and disconnected. And it has taken the lives of those already exposed to health inequalities at a disturbing rate. UK leaders are making decisions the magnitude of which have not been seen for over 70 years and doing so at a frenetic pace to respond to a virus that disproportionately affects some parts of our society. This proposition from 50 voluntary and social sector organisations to the UK government is clear: let’s work together to create a Mental Health Renewal Plan that re-imagines a New Social Contract for a mentally healthier society as we emerge from this pandemic. The loss of so many lives, the economic challenge, and the impact of lockdown and isolation create a perfect storm, a tipping point for change. 

The UK has already endured tens of thousands of tragic deaths and the profound economic shock of the Covid-19 response. The nation’s mental health is at high risk. We will endure the mental health impacts of Covid-19 for many years to come in the fallout of fractured relationships, isolation, debt, unemployment and grief. And, without bold preventative action, the mental health consequences of the pandemic will fall disproportionally on those facing the greatest disadvantage. We are calling for the nation’s mental health and wellbeing to be prioritised by the Prime Minister and all his ministers both in the immediate Covid-19 response and, critically, as an integral part of plans to help the country recover from the crisis. What we do now will impact generations to come.

Creating the conditions for good mental health must now be a national priority. Now is the time for government and society to come together to create a new, coherent and integrated approach. Other countries have already published recovery plans to work across government, voluntary sector and civil society to meet the mental health and psychosocial needs emerging from the crisis.

We are seeking a coordinated national approach for England to both effectively prevent and respond to the damage that Covid-19 inflicts on the nation’s mental health. The mental health, social enterprise and charitable sector have a long history of bringing together and connecting expertise and experience of health and social care to support government and departmental approaches. More than ever, a combined leadership approach is needed both to meet the needs of those who already live with mental ill health and the wider population at risk from significant mental distress as a result of the pandemic.

The government has an opportunity to work in true partnership with the mental health voluntary sector and its partners to shape a New Social Contract for a mentally healthier society that prevents harm, reduces health inequalities and enables the UK to rebound positively from this crisis.