Last week, the Prime Minister set out government plans to address what she described as ‘burning injustices’ relating to mental health in our society. Speaking to the Charity Commission on the day the Government published its response to last year’s Mental Health Five Year Forward View, Theresa May noted that people with mental health problems too often do not get the help them need when they need it, that stigma within workplaces leaves too many people with inadequate support, and that children with mental health problems face lifelong disadvantages.
The speech brought a number of new announcements of government action to build on the pledges already made for investment in mental health services for both children and adults. They include a bigger focus on mental health in schools (for example offering ‘mental health first aid’ training to secondary schools), a review of how to help employers deal better with mental health at work, and investment in new crisis services (including a pledge to stop children being treated ‘out of area’ when they need a hospital bed). The Government also published a new suicide prevention strategy and pledged to reform the system by which people with mental health problems have to pay GPs to give evidence to creditors when they get into debt.
These pledges will have significant implications for local councils, creating both opportunities for member champions to promote equality for mental health, and concerns about the capacity of local authorities to deliver on the promises being made. Local authorities have many roles in relation to the mental health of their communities and they face major financial pressures in meeting people’s needs. They have a key role in tackling the injustices the PM described (and many more) but limited resources with which to make a difference.
For many local authorities, the starting point to tackling mental health inequality is to understand the needs of their local communities. Effective needs assessments can play a big part in stimulating coordinated local action, led by Health and Wellbeing Boards, and recent research from Centre for Mental Health identified some of the keys to success in this area. Member champions can play a big part in ensuring mental health needs are understood in local areas and that action is taken to address the gaps they uncover.
Local authorities are also now developing suicide prevention strategies, building on the updated national strategy. Many are embracing the ‘zero suicide’ philosophy, seeking to take action in communities to prevent loss of life wherever possible through a range of measures including training for GPs, police officers, railway staff and others who can help someone in a crisis.
There are many more areas in which local authorities are embracing mental health and wellbeing, led by member champions and their supporters. From reviewing housing policies and practices to ensuring they support the mental health of their own staff, councils are finding ways of promoting mental health equality in their communities. As more and more councils take the Mental Health Challenge, we hope to showcase examples of good and innovative practice and encourage all local authorities to tackle the deep-rooted and longstanding injustices faced by people with mental health problems in our society.