Sue Bailey RCPsychLocal councils in England need better information about the mental health and wellbeing of the people they serve in order to close the gap between the mental and physical health of their communities, say charities and health professionals.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists and charity the Centre for Mental Health are asking every local authority in England to find out how many people in their area have mental health issues or poor wellbeing, how many are at risk and what proportion receive help. To help with this, the organisations have published 10 questions for councillors and health champions to ask their public health teams.

The questions aim to help local authorities promote the wellbeing of their population and aid the recovery of people with mental ill health by providing information on the size, impact and cost of the unmet need to treat mental health problems. It also aims to prevent them from arising and promote wellbeing as addressing such unmet needs can result in a range of local impacts and associated economic savings even in the short-term.  

Recent reports from Centre for Mental Health and the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition have shown that many local health and wellbeing strategies are not focusing on mental health. This is in part due to a lack of information about mental health in their local needs assessments.

The 10 questions are being published as part of the local authority mental health challenge, an initiative from Centre for Mental Health, the Mental Health Foundation, Mind, Rethink Mental Illness, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and YoungMinds to support local leadership in mental health. So far some 15 councils have taken up the challenge and appointed member champions for mental health.

Professor Sue Bailey, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Local councillors are at the heart of communities. Having such enthusiasm from them to become mental health champions will make a real contribution to increased understanding of the needs of those with mental illness, and of how to build psychosocial resilience across communities.”

Time to Change ambassador Alastair Campbell also believes councils need better information about the size of the intervention gap: “At a time when the importance of good mental health and the need for parity is finally gaining recognition, it is vital that people have the services they need at a local level. By answering these questions, councils will go some way to having a better understanding of what the current state of play is and what can be done to improve services. Only yesterday it was revealed that referrals for services are rising at a time services are being cut. That has to be addressed.”

The 10 questions will also be sent to MPs to help them to find out more about the mental health needs of their constituencies and how well these are currently being met.