Mental Wealth FestivalSpecialist and community mental health and learning disability provision “needs turning upside down” to become more creative, responsive and effective, a leading campaigner has said.

Speaking at the conclusion of the inaugural Mental Wealth Festival, Baroness Sheila Hollins, founder of Books Beyond Words, president of the College of Occupational Therapists and former president of the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “The clear message of those who took part [at the festival] is that specialist and community provision needs turning upside down: The more resources, support and energy that can be unlocked and provided locally within communities, the more creative, responsive and effective that support will be… thus unlocking the mental wealth of our communities in new ways.”

The Mental Wealth Festival gathered hundreds of participants from across the country in London and provided a context and a forum in which people could gather, debate and plan to refresh and support the role of those with learning disabilities and mental ill health. The event was organised by City Lit, Books Beyond Words and social enterprise Cathedral Innovation Centre.

Among the speakers were: Costa Book Prize winner Nathan Filer; Minister for Social Care Rt Hon Alistair Burt MP; Lord Ramsbotham; Paul Farmer, CEO of mental health charity Mind, and former Permanent Secretary for Health Lord Crisp. 

“Over two full days, a diverse range of people engaged with activities and spoke about issues in ways they wouldn’t normally do,” Baroness Hollins explained. “The festival has brought people together, across many different sectors and is already leading to new partnerships and renewed commitments to create and support community based initiatives to enable mental wellbeing. Through art, music, film, policy and poetry these conversations will be continued.”

Workshops, speeches, debates, film showings, poetry and book readings all celebrated and pointed towards a refreshed agenda in supporting good mental health.

Minister for Social care, Alistair Burt, also committed to a cross-party collaborative approach to driving the agenda forward. Delegates welcomed his commitment to improvement and especially his concern for the emotional and mental wellbeing of mothers and infants.

Mark Malcomson, principal and CEO of City Lit, said: “At City Lit, we’ve long recognised our impact on our students' mental wealth and the part we play in improving their wellbeing – we know students choose our courses for many reasons, in addition to the great education they receive: to meet people, reduce isolation, build confidence and self-esteem as well for fun and for new experiences - it all contributes to better mental wealth. It’s hugely positive that people are now more prepared to discuss mental health openly, whether it’s actors, MPs or CEOs, and we are delighted that the Festival contributed to widening that discussion.”

Charles Bicker, chair of the Cathedral Innovation Centre added: “There is a growing feeling in the air that public attitudes to mental health and wellbeing are getting ahead of policy makers and health professionals.  We all know family or friends that have issues and people seem much more willing to talk in public about their own struggles. We heard wonderful stories of communities, unable to access support services, starting community enterprises to provide their own support and lobby for better services. Responding to popular demand and with the encouragement of sponsors, it looks like the Mental Wealth Festival could become an annual event.”