Mental Health Foundation: General Election manifesto 2019

Every week in England, one in six adults experiences a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression, and, at some point in their lives, one in five adults has considered taking their own life.

The huge and growing prevalence of mental health problems places an unsustainable strain on the NHS. To ease this pressure, we must reduce the levels of mental distress in society by acting to prevent mental health problems. The current high rates of preventable poor mental health in the UK would be considered unacceptable in any other area of health.

The next Prime Minister has the opportunity to build on our growing understanding of the social, economic and environmental factors that lead to poor mental health and deliver a comprehensive, cross-government plan which tackles the root causes of mental health problems and improves the wellbeing of the nation.

Our manifesto presents five actions the next UK government can take to work towards better mental health for all.

5 Actions to Prevent Mental Health Problems

1. Create a cross-government plan to address the causes of mental health problems

A large proportion of mental health problems are caused by social and economic inequalities, including poverty, poor housing, experiences of racism and discrimination, and inequality of access to public services and technology. Preventing mental health problems therefore cannot happen in the health sector alone – it requires cross-government action.

The next UK government must create a cross-government plan to address the root causes of mental health problems. This plan should be led by a Cabinet committee and generate a series of mental health-related outcomes for each government department to work towards.

2. Give our children a mentally healthy start in life

The majority of mental health problems are established before age 14 and some of the most well-evidenced and cost-effective programmes to prevent mental health problems focus on children and infants' mental health. Improving mental health in childhood can lead to life long benefits for children and wider society.

The next UK government should invest in early years and childhood programmes proven to improve child and infant mental health. They should invest in health visiting services, parenting programmes, and targeted support programmes for parents experiencing particular challenges. They should also deliver age-appropriate mental health literacy lessons at each stage of a child’s education.

3. Restore local authority funding so that local government can effectively carry out its public health functions

There has been a 4% year-on-year cut to local authority public heath budgets since 2015/16, leaving the public health grant £850 million lower in real terms. Public health cuts have hit the poorest areas hardest which means the most vulnerable are losing out on the prevention services that maintain health and wellbeing.

The next UK government must restore the public health grant and resource councils to invest in other services – such as children’s services, housing and maintaining parks – which are known to be beneficial to mental health.

4. Identify what is being done to protect and promote people's mental health and where more work is needed

There are examples of effective interventions to prevent mental health problems. However, their availability and coverage is not well recorded making it difficult to know how well existing preventative interventions meet the needs of local communities.

The next UK government should commission a thorough assessment of mental health-related need and the coverage of existing programmes to identify where there are gaps in provision. This will help councils and national government to plan effective mental ill-health prevention.

5. Support public services to understand and respond appropriately to trauma

Traumatic experiences leave a powerful impact on people’s brain, behaviour, and life opportunities. When public services understand and respond appropriately to people’s experience of trauma, they can reduce the risk of doing further damage through ‘re-traumatisation’ and help people to get more from the service they offer.

The next UK government should establish a national programme to support trauma-informed education, health, criminal justice, social welfare and housing services.

Read the full manifesto

Mental Health Policy Group manifesto

The Mental Health Foundation is a member of the Mental Health Policy Group, a coalition of six national organisations working together to improve mental health: Centre for Mental Health, the Mental Health Foundation, NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the Royal College of Psychiatrists. This manifesto reflects areas of shared ambition and common concern across the six organisations. 

Read the Mental Health Policy Group’s manifesto