Ten-year plan needed to stop rise in mental ill health in England, say charities

26 September 2023

More than 30 national organisations, representing many thousands of people, have come together to call for a long-term mental health plan for England.

A Mentally Healthier Nation, published today by Centre for Mental Health on behalf of over 30 national charities, sets out what a long-term government mental health plan for England could look like. It calls for action to tackle poverty and racial injustice, for reforms to the benefits and justice systems, and for further investment in better and more equitable mental health services.

The report draws on evidence provided to the UK Government’s consultation on its proposed ten-year plan to identify the actions that are necessary to protect people’s mental health, reduce mental health inequalities, and improve mental health services nationwide.

The coalition of charities are calling for action to prevent mental ill health. This includes legislating to bring down child poverty, improving housing, and providing effective support for children and families to enjoy better mental health through early years services and schools. Investment in local public health services is also essential to support wellbeing in communities across the country.

A Mentally Healthier Nation sets out how a fairer society could improve everyone’s mental health and give people with a mental illness a better chance in life. It calls for urgent action to reduce the 20-year life expectancy gap for people with severe mental illness, an end to ‘hostile environment’ policies, and a fairer benefits system.

The report calls for further investment in mental health services, building on the start made in the first five years of the NHS Long Term Plan. It says we need to fund mental health and social care services fairly, set new access standards to end long waits for essential services, and modernise the Mental Health Act. It also calls for urgent action on children’s mental health services, including 100% coverage of school and college mental health support teams, and a national network of young people’s early support hubs.

A Mentally Healthier Nation shows how a national mental health plan could change people’s lives for the better. Backed up with a mental health policy test for all government departments, a national plan could turn around the rise in mental ill health over the last decade that has put mental health services under severe strain across the country.

  • Children from the poorest families are four times as likely to have a mental health problem by the age of 11 than the wealthiest children
  • Black people in the UK are four times more likely to be sectioned under the Mental Health Act than white people
  • People with severe mental illness face a 20-year shorter life expectancy than average in the UK.

A Mentally Healthier Nation provides a blueprint for government to act on these inequities. By combining cross-government action to prevent mental ill health with focused investment in better mental health services, A Mentally Healthier Nation is a comprehensive plan that will benefit all of us.

Centre for Mental Health chief executive Andy Bell said: “The public’s mental health has deteriorated since the start of this decade. More and more people are seeking help for their mental health. Even with recent growth in NHS mental health services, care is being rationed because the system is overwhelmed. We have to turn this around. A comprehensive cross-government plan could help to improve the nation’s mental health while also boosting mental health services. It could tackle the causes of distress to protect people’s mental health, while also ensuring people living with a mental health difficulty are treated fairly in society. This cannot wait. We call on the Government to act now and on all political parties at the next General Election to commit to a long-term plan to create better mental health for all.”

Dr Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “An unprecedented number of people are struggling with their mental health, and support services in England are on their knees. A severe lack of funding, which has built up over many years, means that record numbers of people are waiting for the treatment they need. As a result, more and more people are reaching crisis point. To truly tackle the mental health emergency, we need to focus on the causes, not just the effects. This long-term plan lays out the steps those in power need to take to help people to live mentally healthy lives and make sure support is there whenever they need it.”

Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: “Good mental health is the foundation to unlock our potential. It is an asset to be nurtured, not a problem to be solved. This report sets out how the mental health of the whole population could be radically improved. It addresses the unavoidable truth that so much of our poor mental health is caused by big issues completely outside of the health system; unsafe online environments, insecure work, widening inequality and ongoing discrimination in society. It also explains the case for positive action; getting funded, evidence-based programmes to support everyone’s mental health in communities up and down the country. We must also build up the assets in our communities: things like access to green space, youth clubs and all the other elements we need to thrive in our local areas. Along with our colleagues in the sector, we’ve produced a comprehensive blueprint for a mentally healthier society. But a blueprint is just a piece of paper; now we need the politicians to get building, and create the society we need to have good mental health for all.”

Mark Winstanley, Chief Executive of Rethink Mental Illness, said: “There are many worrying indicators that the country faces a deepening mental health crisis. While there are some short-term measures which are urgently needed from government, such as enacting the Mental Health Act reform in law as promised, it must also set out how it will work across its departments to tackle the drivers of mental illness in the longer-term, helping people stay well in the community and reducing pressure on the NHS. A key part of this should be ensuring people who live with mental illness and are unable to work are treated with compassion and understanding by the benefits system, and don’t have their financial lifeline withdrawn when they need it most.”

Dr Lade Smith CBE, President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “Years of underfunding and lack of investment in mental health services has left many people without the life-changing and life-saving support they need. The cost-of-living crisis is taking a toll on people’s mental health with a sharp rise in demand for mental health services, which are already struggling to meet the needs of the 1.4 million people waiting for community-based mental health care. This is not a problem that will fix itself, mental illness must be treated with the same urgency and attention as physical illness, starting with a detailed roadmap that values people with mental health problems as much as it does those with physical health problems, that truly delivers parity of esteem. To do this we need an ambitious cross-government strategy for mental health and mental health services.  This report provides a strong set of recommendations to support this goal. This includes building a sustainable mental health workforce, requiring additional funding and not just reallocations from existing stretched budgets, expanding access to mental health support for children and young people and tackling long waits for all ages. The blueprint to change lives for the better is here, the Government must use it.”

Sean Duggan, chief executive of the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network said: “Health leaders will look to this report from the mental health sector as vital because it sets out a plan on how to improve support, but also how to prevent mental ill health and tackle inequalities. The pandemic saw an increase in demand for mental health support, and services continue to work hard to tackle this surge in demand. To that end mental health services must receive a fair share of allocated NHS funding for both revenue and capital, as well as continued support to address the workforce challenges that dog mental health providers. Mental health leaders also stress the need for a cross government response to address the wider determinants of mental health that increase the risk of people developing mental ill health; and the need to invest in preventative approaches to improve people’s mental health and wellbeing.”

Download the report

Tag: Policy

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