Mental health is a pressing issue for all

This is not a Prime Minister who is prepared to duck the hard questions.

Thursday, 19th January 2017, 16:05 pm
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to members of the Charity Commision for England and Wales at The Royal Society where she detailed plans to provide greater support for those suffering mental health problems. Picture by Dan Kitwood/PA Wire

Theresa May’s first speech on policy of the year was striking. She chose to tackle an intractable issue head-on — mental illness.

I believe that she was absolutely right to do so. For too long mental health has not been treated with the same esteem as physical health.

It was Winston Churchill who popularised the euphemism “the black dog” as if talking in stark terms about depression and anxiety would not be befitting of a Brit. However, hiding mental health problems does not make them go away.

Mental health touches every one of us in some way, whether personally, professionally or through friends and families. It is morally wrong not to address this issue. One in four of us will suffer from a mental health problem at some point in our lives. Socially and economically the case for change is compelling.

One in ten children in this country has a mental health condition. The number of young people being admitted to hospital due to self-harming has risen by 68 per cent over the last ten years.

Children with behavioural disorders are four times more likely to be dependent on drugs, six times more likely to die before the age of 30, and 20 times more likely to end up in prison.

The total cost of mental illness is £105billion, only £11billion short of the entire annual NHS budget. Last year 127 million hours of work were lost due to mental health-related absence. Boiled down, mental health issues cost the UK 4.5 per cent of our annual GDP.

For years it has fallen to civil society, charities and the media to take on the problem. This Government, that has already legislated for “parity of esteem” in healthcare, so that whatever your illness, you are treated the same, wants to go further.

There is to be a renewed emphasis on tackling mental health issues in schools. Every secondary school will be offered mental health first aid training. There will be trials on strengthening links between schools and NHS staff.

By 2021 no child will be sent away from their area to receive treatment for mental health issues.

Employers will also be equipped to do more. The Prime Minister appointed mental health campaigner Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, to carry out a review on improving support in the workplace.

This is not about forcing employers to take on additional liability, it is about asking them to do their part for their employees. It makes business, as well as social sense.

Care and health services will see significant change. There will be an extra £15million for community care, such as crisis cafes and local clinics, taking pressure off GPs and A&E.

There will also be a rapid expansion in treatment available by investing £67.7million in digital mental health services. Online therapy has the potential to transform mental health service delivery. There are examples where this works well in other countries.

The Government will ensure that the NHS takes steps to ensure that parity means just that. The Prime Minister wants to hold the NHS leadership to account for the extra £1billion invested in mental health last year, and that when NHS leaders redesign services, mental health gets its full weighting.

Mental health is an pressing issue. We need to tackle the stigma associated with it, but we also need to put into action steps to tackle care and prevention.

Mental health needs to be addressed not just in our hospitals, but in our classrooms, businesses and communities. The Prime Minister is ready to face up to the challenge and this Government is ready to put in the work to turn the tide against this serious illness.