By Andy Bell
Sarah Hughes joined us as chief executive of Centre for Mental Health early in 2017. Almost six years later she is leaving to become chief executive of Mind. In that time, the Centre’s purpose has become ever clearer and the environment we work in has get ever more challenging. We’ve had to weather the storms that have affected everyone (but not all equally) and we’ve had the leadership in Sarah to ensure that we are courageous, clearly spoken, compassionate and authentic.
With Sarah’s outstanding leadership, we have made the Centre a beacon for mental health equality. We’ve stood up for equity and social justice. Our research has broken new ground in surfacing experiences and narratives that have been silenced or ignored. Our campaigns have challenged inequality and injustice, for example in the life expectancy gap facing people with a mental illness. Our training has supported a generation of employment specialists to help people when they want support with getting paid work. And our policy advocacy and communications have brought some critical issues for mental health equality into the spotlight that for too long were left out in the cold.
At the same time, people’s mental health has been under extreme pressure. In the years leading up to 2020 we had already seen growing rates of mental health difficulties and poor wellbeing, especially among children and young adults. Covid-19 hit at a time when many were already struggling, and it has been followed by a cost of living crisis that is having a devastating impact on top. The Centre has striven to speak up about the effects of these and other major threats to people’s mental health during this time. We have made the case for policies that can protect people’s mental health and support people living with mental health difficulties. We’ve provided data and insight about the unequal impacts of the pandemic and how these intersect with wider social and economic inequalities. And through A Year in Our Lives we’ve been privileged to share the stories of people’s own experiences of Covid-19 and what it meant for their mental health.
We are determined to build on what Sarah has achieved and the example she has set for charities and civil society to lead the way in challenging inequality and injustice. In 2023, Centre for Mental Health will continue to make the case for policies and practices that will support mental health equality. That means we will actively promote anti-racist approaches to mental health. We will explore how climate resilience and mental health can come together to protect people’s and communities’ wellbeing. We will speak the truth to power about policies that harm mental health and advocate for actions that help. We will push for more action to equalise life expectancy for people with a mental illness. And we will make the case for mental health services that are holistic, proactive, compassionate and effective.
We don’t always get it right. And we won’t always get it right. But we will continue to be bold, determined, and authentic. We’ll look for long-term solutions that really make a difference and we will be open to new ideas and perspectives. We’ll have a new look in the new year and we’ll be debating some of the biggest issues facing our mental health in the 2020s. Join us and help us change the future.