All healthcare professionals need to treat physical and mental health with equal importance, the Faculty of Public Health (FPH) and the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) have said.

Their call, made on World Mental Health Day, coincides with the FPH’s launch of Better Mental Health for All, a new online resource that provides advice and information for public health professionals about mental health and wellbeing, including its links with physical health.

Professor John Ashton, president of the FPH, said: “People with serious mental illness are dying, on average, 20 years younger than the general population. They are twice as likely to have diabetes, and people with schizophrenia are 10 times more likely to die from respiratory disease.

“Given that 40% of all tobacco is smoked by people with mental illness, it is a scandal that they are less likely to be given support to quit. If cancer patients were not getting the right support because of a lack of good care there would, quite rightly, be an outcry.

“It’s time we took a whole person approach that gives physical and mental health equal consideration. 

“Public health professionals are in the business of building healthy and resilient communities. To do this, we need to give equal weight to physical and mental health. In doing so, we also make it easier to improve mental wellbeing, which protects against physical illness, social inequalities and unhealthy lifestyles.”

Professor Sue Bailey, president of the RCPsych, said: “Almost one in four (23%) of British adults are experiencing a diagnosable mental health problem at any given time, making mental health problems the largest source of disability in the United Kingdom. However, only 11.1% of the NHS budget – £11.9 billion – was spent on NHS services to treat mental health problems during 2010/11.

“Achieving parity of esteem between mental and physical health is everybody’s business and responsibility.

“After publishing our Parity of Esteem report in March 2013, the RCPsych is continuing to make the case for a reasonable rebalancing of resources, so that people get the care they need irrespective of whether they have a physical or mental health problem. We will be drafting and proposing new smoking-related Quality and Outcomes Framework for GP surgeries, updating our medical education material on smoking, and are working with the NHS Confederation to achieve smoke-free wards.

“Better education of healthcare professionals is key. That is why RCPsych is also strengthening its membership examination, the MRCPsych, to reaffirm the importance of preventing, identifying, assessing and managing physical illness.”