Dan Parton cutLooking back, 2015 was a year when mental health finally became an election issue, while the role of teachers in assessing children and young people’s mental health became higher profile – and much more. Editor Dan Parton takes a look back.

Disclaimer: this article is based on the most viewed news stories on the Mental Health Today website in 2015; it should not be inferred that these were the most significant stories.

In the first half of the year, the general election dominated the mainstream news agenda, and mental health was featured in the manifestos of all of the main parties more than ever before. Indeed, mental health was a live issue in the run-up to the election, with the three main parties all making statements on it. 

Against this backdrop, the most viewed news story on the MHT site in 2015 was on the Conservative Party’s commitments to mental health in its manifesto. It included the party reaffirming its commitment to parity of esteem for mental and physical health, as well as pledges to increase funding for mental health and to introduce waiting time standards for certain types of mental illness.

Since the election, the latter two have been acted on, although it should be noted that these were existing pre-election policies.

Elsewhere, a call for teachers to receive training in mental health garnered a lot of attention, particularly on our Facebook page. Caroline Hounsell, director of partnerships for Mental Health First Aid England, made the call for education about mental health to be a mandatory part of teacher training at a conference in September. This could be crucial if schools are to meet a new Ofsted requirement to measure pupils’ emotional wellbeing, she added.

This issue has already cropped up again in 2016, with a survey finding that more than two thirds of teachers don’t believe they have the appropriate training to help spot mental health issues in pupils. As the number of children and young people experiencing mental health continues to rise, it is likely this issue will be revisited again in 2016.

The rise of smartphone apps in mental health services was another popular topic in 2015. For instance, psychologists at the University of Liverpool developed a smartphone app called ‘Catch It’ to help people maintain their mental health using the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. 

Catch It allows users to record their feelings, what prompted their emotions, and what they were thinking at the time. Users are then prompted to think differently about a situation and re-evaluate their emotions.

Workplace stress is another issue that regularly made the headlines in Mental Health Today, with several studies highlighted over the course of the year. One of the most read came from January, where a study by mutual healthcare provider Benenden Health claimed that acute stress in the workplace can reduce people’s ability to think critically to that of a small child.

Another recurring issue in the news was the stigma of mental health. While it is reducing in the UK, stigma is still a big issue for many people with mental ill health – and this is something the media has a key role in addressing. To this end, anti-stigma campaigning group Time to Change, with help from Stephen Fry, launched a campaign to offer picture editors alternative images to the simplistic and stigmatising ‘headclutcher’ (head in hands) shot that often accompanies media stories about mental health problems.

This is something we at MHT took on board, and we have always used alternatives to the headclutcher since.

As mentioned above, it is likely that the issues that were popular in 2015 will be so again in 2016, along with a raft of new issues. In a forthcoming blog, editor Dan Parton will look to what 2016 may hold for mental health service users and professionals.