Mental health services must act to avoid sleepwalking into the future

23 September 2013

Today we are publishing the final report from our year-long Inquiry into the future of mental health services. The report, ‘Starting Today', sets out some key messages as to what mental health services need to do in order to ensure that they are ready to address the mental health needs of the UK population in 20-30 years' time.

Mental health services are currently straining at the seams. Yet they face even greater pressures in the future, including a growing, and ageing, population; persistently high prevalence rates of mental disorders among adults and children; increasing levels of co-morbid mental and physical health problems; and funding constraints that are likely to last for many years.  

Dinesh Bhugra, co-chair of the Inquiry Advisory Panel and President-Elect of the World Psychiatric Association and Professor of Mental Health and Diversity at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College London says:

“A range of factors will undoubtedly impact on future mental health services such as a larger population with more people reaching later life and increased expectations of care and support.
“We need to start taking action today to address future challenges. We cannot expect mental health services simply to muddle along with no clear sense of what is required, and sleepwalk into the future. If we do so, we will be failing all those who in the future need mental health care and their families, as well as the staff who work in mental health services.

“Our Inquiry found that the case for more preventative work is undeniable. Lacking a ‘cure' for mental illness, a reduction in the number of people across the UK developing mental disorders appears to us to be the only way that mental health services will adequately cope with demand in 20-30 years' time.

“We need fresh ways of working in mental health, ensuring the best use of available resources and working in truly integrated fashion. New technology will no doubt bring about more changes as well as challenges. But much of what in our view needs to be done is simply implementing known good practice that already exists. Failure to provide good, integrated mental health care is not a failure of understanding what needs to be done, it is a failure of actually implementing good practice in organisational strategies and the day to day business of providing people with the care and treatment that they want. We need to start today to rectify that.”

Key findings

The Inquiry looked at certain key demographic and societal factors which will impact on future mental health services and identified six key themes that mental health services will need to address to become fit for purpose for the 21st century:

1. Personalising services
Greater personalisation of services and the engagement of patients and their carers and families as equal partners in decisions about care and service provision.

2. Integrated care
Increased integration driven by committed local leaders between different parts of mental health services; between physical and mental health care; and between health and social care. This will need a new approach to training health and social care staff, and a change in culture and attitudes.

3. Life span issues
Services that are designed to address an individual's mental health, and mental health needs, across the life span from infancy to old age.

4. Workforce development
Shared training across disciplines from the start of people's careers and in continuing professional development, moving psychiatry into community and primary care settings, and flexibility for staff to develop and move careers across disciplines.

5. Research and new technologies
Better funded research, into both clinical and social interventions to support people with mental health problems, alongside a commitment to ensure equality of access to the benefits of new technologies.

6. Public mental health
A need for mental health to be treated as a core public health issue, so that it will be as normal for everyone to look after their mental health as it is to look after their physical health and a public health workforce that sees mental health as one of its core responsibilities.


Download full report