DH Ben ThomasIn a guest blog from the Department of Health's week of action on health protection, Dr Ben Thomas, Professional Officer for Mental Health, Learning Disabilities and Dementia considers the importance of looking after and promoting mental wellbeing and building resilience:

This week’s focus on health protection is an opportunity to do more to protect and promote mental health. We all know that mental illnesses are common with at least one in four people being affected at some point in their lives. Mental illness represents up to 23% of the total burden of ill-health in the UK and is the largest cause of disability. For individuals, their families and carers, we know how distressing and incapacitating mental illness can be. We also know the effects of stigma, particularly when it prevents people seeking help. But we need to make sure that everyone is aware of all the different things that we can do to look after and protect our mental health, promote mental well-being and build resilience.

A shared understanding is an important starting point. Mental health and resilience are fundamental to our physical health, our relationships, our education, our work, achieving our potential, shaping our identity as individuals. They have an impact on every area of our lives. Wellbeing includes feeling good about ourselves, functioning to the best of our ability, coping with the everyday stresses of life and being able to make a positive, constructive and creative contribution to the communities that we live in. Resilience is the ability to cope with life’s challenges and to adapt to adversity. Resilience can also help us protect against developing some mental health problems and maintain our mental wellbeing in difficult circumstances.

The recently published ‘Closing the gap: priorities for essential change in mental health’ highlights again the government’s determination to promote and sustain good mental health for all and to prevent mental health problems developing. In the area of prevention, the focus is on maternal mental health during pregnancy and after birth including postnatal depression. Health visitors and midwives are singled out for improved training and support that will enable them to spot the early signs of maternal mental health problems and ensure that the mental health and wellbeing needs of parents, babies and families are met.

But we all have a part to play to ensure that mental health is given have equal priority with physical health, all nurses must be encouraged to give the promotion of mental health and wellbeing and the prevention of mental illness the long overdue attention it needs and deserves. In ‘No health without mental health’ we outlined a model for people to adopt, taken from the Foresight report and resources on Mental Capital and Wellbeing.

Further reading: Professional Officer for Community Nursing Wendy Nicholson blog on building resilience in children, young people and families

This sets out five things that we can all do to improve our mental wellbeing:
• Connect with people around you, with family, friends, neighbours and colleagues
• Be active, go for a walk a run, do some gardening, play a game, find an activity that you enjoy and suits your level of mobility and fitness
• Take notice, be curious, be aware of the world around you
• Give, do something nice for someone else, volunteer, join a community group
• Keep learning, try something new, learn a new recipe or anew language. Set yourself a challenge. Learning something new will build your confidence

Lots of nurses have told me that they do not feel confident about talking about mental health and wellbeing. They often feel they do not know enough about mental health to be able to help. Enhancing all nurses’ skills and capabilities for promotion of mental health and prevention of mental illness is an important step forward. We must ensure that mental health has ‘parity of esteem’ with physical health, which is something Public Health England (PHE) is looking at by mapping the mental health competencies against the generic standards for nursing. There is no better time as we conclude this week of action on health protection to commit to learning something new to raise awareness about mental health and do more to protect and promote mental wellbeing. We all need to take responsibility both for protecting our own mental health and that of others.

Make a commitment as part of NHS Change Day on health protection by signing the DH pledge here.