A right to good mental health?

10 October 2023
By Andy Bell
Andy Bell

This year’s World Mental Health Day is about recognising mental health as a universal human right worldwide. That we all have a right to good mental health, and mental health care. Our report today, A constant battle, shows how racial injustice is toxic to people’s mental health, and how its effects within families can be far-reaching. Poverty and financial difficulty are major risk factors to our mental health, and too many people this World Mental Health Day are struggling with both.

Other reports today have focused on mental health services, and the challenges that continue to stand in the way of providing anyone who needs it with timely access to safe and effective care. A Royal College of Nursing members’ survey found that most nurses working in the UK think that mental health services are far from having parity in the NHS with physical health care. Long waits for support are a major cause for concern, as is the poor provision of physical health support for people living with a mental illness.

This is an important reminder of the urgent need for equitable access and waiting time standards for mental health care. It’s two years since NHS England recommended these be implemented in England, yet they have still not been put in place. And we need concerted action to tackle the 15-20 year life expectancy gap for people with a mental illness, building on our Equally Well campaign.

A report from Mind, meanwhile, has exposed major concerns about the number of serious incident reports to the Care Quality Commission relating to mental health services. They found that more than 17,000 such reports were made in the last year. Mental health services are working under intense pressure, with record numbers of referrals, high bed occupancy rates in some inpatient services, a lack of investment in the mental health estate, and ongoing staffing challenges across the system. It’s clear that this requires concerted action. We must continue to see investment in mental health services beyond the current Long Term Plan that ends in April. But we also need system change, boosting community support and developing better emergency care so that fewer people require a hospital admission. We need a modernised Mental Health Act alongside sustained action tackling racism in the mental health system and updating estates that are no longer fit for purpose.

Recognising mental health as a universal human right may help to spur action to put these injustices right. As we showed last month in A Mentally Healthier Nation, it is possible to produce a cross-government plan for better mental health for all. It won’t be easy or quick to realise the promise of a right to good mental health. But we cannot ignore the scale of the challenge, nor the consequences of doing nothing to address it. A mentally healthier nation requires concerted effort, but the rewards will be great.

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