Rethink Mental IllnessSix mental health organisations have published a manifesto setting out what the next Government must do to improve the lives of people with mental ill health. 

‘A Manifesto for Better Mental Health’, written by Rethink Mental Illness, Centre for Mental Health, Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Network, Mind and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, sets out 5 key changes that a future Government could make in order to ensure mental and physical health are valued equally. 

Poor mental health carries an economic and social cost of £105 billion annually in England and business loses £26 billion due to mental ill health every year.  But just 25% of adults with depression and anxiety get any treatment, and only 65% of people with psychotic disorder do. Demand is also increasing; the number of people being referred to community mental health services went up by 13% in 2013. 

Despite mental health accounting for 23% of the disease burden, it gets just 13% of the NHS budget and funding has been cut even further for the last 3 years.   

 The manifesto’s key priorities for action are: 

1.    Fair funding for mental health – Commit to real terms increases in funding for mental health services for adults and children in each year of the next Parliament. 

2.    Give children a good start in life – Ensure all women have access to mental health support during and after pregnancy. Raise awareness of mental health by putting it on the national curriculum and training teachers and school nurses. Invest in parenting programmes across England. 

3.    Improve physical health care for people with mental health problems – Ensure Government targets for smoking reduction apply equally to people with mental health problems. Create a national strategy to stop people with mental illness dying early, due to preventable physical health problems.

4.    Improve the lives of people with mental health problems – Continue to fund the Time to Change anti-stigma campaign. Offer integrated health and employment support to people with mental health conditions who are out of work.

5.    Better access to mental health services – Introduce maximum waiting times for mental health care and support, including psychological therapies. Commit to continued improvements in mental health crisis care, including liaison psychiatry services in all hospitals. Continue to fund liaison and diversion mental health services, working with police and the courts.

Mental health must be “top priority”

Mark Winstanley, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness, said: “Mental health must be a top priority for any new administration in 2015. It’s a scandal that people with mental illness still have no legal right to treatment and there are no maximum waiting times. People are waiting months, even years for the most basic care and many are getting no support at all. Successive governments have failed to seriously tackle this issue, which impacts individual lives, the economy and society at large. We call upon parties, across the political spectrum, to commit to the simple, practical and affordable actions outlined on our manifesto and improve the lives of millions of people affected by mental illness in Britain.”

Stephen Dalton, chief executive of the Mental Health Network, said: “This is a consensus of important voices, not partisan, but acting in the best interest of those who need mental health services now or may do one day. There can be few more important political issues than the mental health and wellbeing of this and future generations.”

Early intervention

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health added that three quarters of children and adults with mental health problems receive no treatment or support for them. “We need to reinvest in effective early intervention services, in offering timely treatment when people seek help and in supporting people with mental health problems to recover their lives on their own terms. We know that offering the right help at the right time saves money; we now need to put the evidence into practice across the country.”

Jenny Edwards CBE, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, also called for better early intervention services. She said: “We know that half of all life time mental health problems begin by the age of 14 – therefore we must intervene early to protect and promote children’s mental health and wellbeing.

“We are asking the next Government to mandate all schools to put mental health and wellbeing on the school curriculum and for universal access to mental health support for the one in ten women who experience mental health difficulties during and after pregnancy.  Supporting mental health and resilience from the very earliest days of life is critical if we’re going to address the mental health of the whole nation.”

Addressing funding concerns 

Meanwhile, Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said that while the main parties say they value mental and physical health equally, “funding for mental health services has faced more severe cuts than other services. Whoever forms our next government must make mental health a priority and ensure that everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets the support they need and the respect they deserve.”

Dr Adrian James, chair of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Parliamentary Committee added: “For far too long the treatment and care for people with mental health problems, and investment in mental health research, has been under-funded and under-valued. The stigma and discrimination experienced by people with mental health problems often prevents them from talking about them and seeking help. The NHS Mandate makes it clear that mental health should have parity of esteem with physical health, yet the majority of mental health services have endured a third year of real-terms reductions in funding. We hope that any future Government will take on board these five key priorities for action.”