A report by Mind and the Mental Health Foundation last week called for councils to prioritise mental health within their public health strategy. It sounds so obvious and makes you wonder why councils aren’t doing this already?
The charities’ report, Building resilient communities, also highlights the need for support so people can look after their mental health while funding for public services is being restricted.
Again, sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Spend some money so people can look after their own mental health and will therefore be less likely to require primary or secondary mental health care at a later stage, thus saving money. Simple.
But sometimes the obvious needs to be spelt out – especially when it isn’t happening often enough – and this is a case in point.
As the report notes, public health teams are finding their feet in local authorities and now is the key time to make the case for the importance of public mental health. The public health grant is only ring fenced until 2015, so there is an urgent need for local councils to do their bit and deliver on the Government’s commitment to parity of esteem by making mental health a key part of local public health plans.
There is a concern that the focus will be placed on ‘traditional’ health concerns, such as smoking or heart disease. While these are important – I’m not belittling their seriousness in any way – mental health is every bit as crucial to public health. Also, as an increasing number of studies have shown, good mental health and good physical health are closely interlinked.
Public health teams need to challenge the traditionally low priority that mental health is given and, to this end, a dedicated mental health lead is crucial. However, in an on-going era of local authority cutbacks and redundancies, how likely is it that such a position will be created?
Nevertheless, the report produces a trump card against the still-too-common misperception that mental health is a ‘soft’ area of policy by providing an evidence base to underpin it. It has various examples of what already works well and could, with a little time, effort and initial spending, be replicated elsewhere.
With the number of people experiencing mental ill health of some kind expected to increase in the coming years, especially as poor economic conditions in the UK are expected to continue, then the case for public mental health strategy is, surely, compelling?
This is an opportunity that must not be squandered. Not only is there a strong economic case – which holds increasing sway among local authorities these days – but also, more importantly, a moral case. If more can be done to prevent people from experiencing poor mental health, then it should be.
So, local authorities: the economic and moral case is there, the best practice is there, now go do it.