Mental health care for all stages of life must be improved for all to thrive

2 July 2014
By Andy Bell

This week, a new book by Lord Layard and Professor David Clark sets out a call for a transformation in the way we think about mental health and the priority mental health care is given.

Thrive: the power of evidence-based psychological therapies, argues that mental ill health causes far greater suffering than has ever been realised by policymakers and that through investment in cost-effective interventions much of that distress can be prevented or treated successfully.

Layard and Clark build a persuasive case for extending and improving mental health support at all stages of life, starting from pregnancy and early years and throughout life. They show that responding better to our mental health needs is not only just and humane but also good economics.

Much of the focus of Thrive is on the value of investing more in psychological therapies. Layard and Clark identify a wide range of therapies that have been shown to be highly cost-effective in improving people’s health: including but not only cognitive behavioural therapy. But they also look at a much wider range of interventions, for example those that will enhance resilience such as social and emotional learning in schools, parenting programmes and mindfulness.

Thrive offers a vision for the future and a case for change that no one can or should ignore. And it reminds us of our place in history; how the decisions we make today affect our future and the lives of future generations. The book concludes that:

“Future generations will be amazed at how blind we were. They will also be amazed that we were so cruel. When we ourselves look back at earlier generations, we are shocked by how they treated slaves, or women and children in the mines, or people with physical disabilities.”

We are thus at a crucial point in time. The last two decades have seen some very important developments in mental health policy and practice: the National Framework for Mental Health; the Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme; the development of prison mental health services and of liaison and diversion; and the growing movement to put personal recovery at the heart of mental health care.

But we also face huge challenges. Three quarters of adults and children with mental health problems go without treatment. Three quarters of CCGs last year cut or froze their spending on children’s mental health services. And too many people with mental health problems are left without the help they need to pursue their personal goals.

Thrive should be required reading for any aspiring member of Parliament, for any CCG or health and wellbeing board member, and for any future government. It offers both a message of hope and a warning we should all heed and take action to support.

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