By Andy Bell
The 2017 General Election saw an unprecedented level of attention to mental health in all the parties’ manifestoes and some major pledges of action to come in the next few years. While the election result has created uncertainty in the political landscape, there is no doubt about the need for mental health to be a major focus for the Government in the coming months and years.
The Conservative Party’s manifesto made a number of pledges to tackle the ‘burning injustices’ faced every day by people with mental health difficulties. It reinforced the party’s previous commitment to increasing mental health service spending by £1 billion by 2020/21 and stated that an extra 10,000 mental health professionals would be recruited to meet more people’s needs. With a five-year Parliament now stretching to 2022, it is vital that these commitments are seen as important beginnings on a continued journey to achieving fair resourcing for mental health support, and not just in the NHS but in social care, public health and other vital services.
The party made particular commitments to children’s mental health, including a greater focus on mental health support and teaching within schools and faster access to specialist care locally in a crisis, tackling major concerns about long waits for help and out of area placements that take many children to hospital far from their family homes. These are important pledges, reflecting the growing understanding that early help for children and families is crucial to prevent emerging problems from escalating into a crisis. Recent evidence summarised by the Centre offers a reminder that all children will benefit from effective action to promote good mental health, while many need accessible early help to reduce risk and some need timely access to evidence-based specialist support . This will require significant extra resources to help schools, the NHS and local councils to offer better mental health support to all the children and young people they serve.
With a five-year Parliament now stretching to 2022, it is vital that these commitments are seen as important beginnings on a continued journey to achieving fair resourcing for mental health support
The manifesto also made pledges relating to employment support for people with disabilities and mental health problems with employment: including action to secure fair treatment within workplaces and support for those out of work to get jobs. In this regard, we need to see concerted action to change the way disabled people receive financial and employment support: moving away from a reliance on conditions and sanctions to an approach that builds on the clear evidence of the benefits of Individual Placement and Support . And it is vital that improved support with employment and health is linked to better help with housing and welfare and policies in these areas that prioritise wellbeing.
Finally, the manifesto pledged to introduce a “new Mental Health Bill…putting parity of esteem at the heart of treatment”. Use of the Mental Health Act has grown consistently every year since the last major changes to this legislation, putting more people under compulsory powers. A thorough review of the Act, including the use of community treatment orders, developed in collaboration with people who have experienced it, will be essential to ensure any new legislation is based on the needs and wishes of people with mental health problems.
There is a broad consensus among all political parties that mental health support has to change: that the days of marginalising mental health in the NHS and people with mental health problems in government policy as a whole have to end.
Beyond these pledges, the Government will have to address mental health in all areas of policy. Urgent action is needed to improve mental health in the criminal justice system, for example, to address the rising suicide rate in prisons and to offer better help to people under probation supervision. Government also needs to address the wellbeing of people in Immigration Removal Centres.
There is a broad consensus among all political parties that mental health support has to change: that the days of marginalising mental health in the NHS and people with mental health problems in government policy as a whole have to end. While each of the manifestoes made different pledges in relation to mental health policy, they all acknowledged the stark inequalities faced by people with mental health problems in our society and the need to address them as a priority in the new Parliament.
While there are many other matters on the minds of politicians at present, mental health must continue to be a priority for the whole of government and for every political party. Better mental health help in schools, in workplaces, in the NHS and in the criminal justice system is at the heart of creating a fairer, healthier society. Whatever happens in the wider political landscape, there must be no turning around in securing better mental health for all and tackling some of the biggest inequalities in our society.