Dan Parton cutEditor Dan Parton looks back at some of the bigger stories from the Mental Health Today website in 2014.

Note: for the purposes of this blog, ‘bigger’ is defined by the stories received the most visits, which doesn’t necessarily pick up those that others may see as the most significant.

With the passing of another year, it is time to look back over the past 12 months and at some of the stories that made headlines in mental health.

As usual, the future direction of mental health services provided some of the biggest talking points of the year. In July, a report by the CentreForum Mental Health Commission called for the “pursuit of happiness” to become an explicit and measurable goal of government, if the £105 billion annual cost of mental illness in England is to be reduced.

Recommendations included rolling out a National Wellbeing Programme to promote mutual support, self-care and recovery, and reduce the crippling stigma that too often goes hand-in-hand with mental ill health. 

Prioritising investment in the mental health of children and young people, right from conception, was another recommendation. This is particularly pertinent as, in June, figures from YoungMinds revealed that the majority of clinical commissioning groups and local authorities had cut or frozen their spending on child and adolescent mental health services in the past year. 

Meanwhile in March, a group of leading doctors – including NHS England’s national clinical director for mental health, Dr Geraldine Strathdee, and Royal College of Psychologists’ spokesperson on suicide and self-harm, Dr Alys Cole-King – called for a fundamental change in the way people think about mental health and how psychological issues are managed in the wider NHS. They said current services and attitudes are resulting in fragmented services, with a lack of understanding and of support for clinical specialisation, leaving people at risk.

Of course, reports and calls such as those mentioned above have been made for years now, and will probably continue to be made in the future as major reform of mental health services is still not a high priority for government.

That said, there were moves towards reform of services in 2014. For example, in January, the government launched its mental health action plan, which outlined 25 areas on which it wants health and care services to take action. The actions identified are those the government believes will make the most difference to the lives of people with mental health conditions.

The action plan was followed in February by police, mental health trusts and paramedics signing the Crisis Care Concordat, which aims to drive up standards of care for people experiencing crises such as suicidal thoughts or significant anxiety.

The concordat, signed by organisations including NHS England, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, sets out the standards of care people should expect if they suffer a mental health crisis and details how the emergency services should respond. 

Elsewhere, the increasing use of technology in mental health services was something that often piqued readers’ interest, especially where websites and apps were concerned. For instance, in July, a pilot website called Find Get Give was launched in Brighton & Hove, Sheffield, Newham and Cornwall, among other locations, with the support of the actor Stephen Fry.

The website helps young people to find local mental health services quickly and easily in their area. By being able to access other people’s feedback about the treatment and support they received, they can make more informed decisions about accessing services and know what to expect. 

Meanwhile, in September, an app was launched that aims to provide children and young people who self-harm with discreet help and advice. The ‘Recovery from Self-Harm’ app gives users access to help and advice from Broadway Lodge – which developed the app – and other charities, in a private and safe environment, in their own time, wherever they are on their mobile phone. Users can access websites, online support groups, useful contacts, and videos of professionals giving advice. 

The use of apps looks set to grow further in 2015 as increasing numbers of people use them in their everyday lives. What else 2015 may hold for mental health service users and their services will be covered in next week’s blog.