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How to make timely, effective mental health support a reality

22 February 2024
By Bethan Bottomley
Bethan Bottomley

Last September, Centre for Mental Health, alongside over 30 organisations, launched A mentally healthier nation: a 10-year cross-government plan for mental health. We now have over 60 endorsements for the document and a clear vision for parties to adopt into their manifesto work as we head towards a general election.

A mentally healthier nation focuses on three key areas – prevention, equality and support – as points of direction to be prioritised in new legislation and investment.

When someone is in need of mental health support, this should be available locally and accessible when their needs first surface. Too often, people aren’t able to get help until they reach crisis point. The significant overrepresentation of people from racialised communities in detentions under the Mental Health Act is a clear indication of the urgent need for reform. Modernising the Act, which is almost 40 years old in its current form, lays the groundwork for dismantling outdated, discriminatory systems, and building improved and more diverse infrastructure.

Reforming the Mental Health Act is a foundation stone for creating a mentally healthier nation and would enable us to direct our attention to policy work centred on improving prevention and equality in mental health. It must be accompanied by a much wider cultural shift in our approach to mental health services. This includes improving quality and safety; reducing health inequalities and inequities; transforming community-based provision; and bringing care closer to home, with less reliance on inpatient services. This requires a strong workforce and commitments to capital funding from government to effectively and quickly bring about these changes.

Alongside the endorsers of A mentally healthier nation, we are calling on the Government to put the policies we set out in this document into action, by building the infrastructure for better community involvement in mental health support, and taking a public health approach which makes prevention and equality its priorities. Improving support must include tackling the wider determinants of mental health, such as poverty, insecure and inadequate housing, tailoring smoking and alcohol cessation programmes to people living with mental health difficulties, and integrating health policy into urban planning.

People who can benefit from mental health, social care and other support should easily be able to access high-quality services when and where they are needed. The NHS Long Term Plan and the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health have supported the much-needed expansion of mental health services and begun to make up for decades of underinvestment. We recognise and welcome this growth. However, the pandemic has significantly increased demand for mental health support, the cost-of-living crisis is likely to exacerbate it further, and there is still much to do to address the already high levels of unmet need. NHS England has estimated that at least 1.2 million people are on mental health waiting lists. At the beginning of 2024, we remain a long way from the ambition of achieving ‘parity of esteem’ for mental health services compared with physical health care.

In 2022, the NHS Confederation and Centre for Mental Health set out a 10-year vision for better mental health, autism and learning disability services which informs some of our recommendations in A mentally healthier nation. For too long, these vital services have not received the attention they need and deserve, leading to long waits, gaps in support, and poorer mental health outcomes for autistic people and people with learning disabilities. Transformation for these individuals will only be achievable through investment in services and the people who work in them.

Everyone should be able to get timely access to local mental health services when they first need them. Investing in a national network of early support hubs for children and young people is central to achieving this, and should be a commitment made and upheld by all political parties. By properly resourcing these services, as well as minimising the use of coercion and widening access for all, we can majorly improve people’s mental health outcomes and build a mentally healthier future for everyone.

Join us in demanding a fairer and healthier future for us all

The prime minister has confirmed that 2024 will see a general election – so we’re calling on all political parties to adopt the ideas we set out in A mentally healthier nation in their manifestos and enact them if elected. You can help us to make this happen by contacting your local candidates.

If we all put mental health on our candidates’ agendas we can build the momentum needed for these ideas to be put into action. Nearer the election we will provide the means of identifying your candidates and a template to call on them to support a mentally healthier nation.

Join us in the fight for equality in mental health

We’re dedicated to eradicating mental health inequalities. But we can’t do it without your support.

Please take this journey with us – donate today.

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