People who use and work with mental health services will know that for too long, these services have been seen as the ‘poor relation’ of the NHS, both in terms of funding and perception. They have usually been treated as separate from physical health – when there is a wealth of evidence linking the two.
I am hopeful that the new NHS Long Term Plan, published in January this year, will start to address these differences.
Mental health is seen as a top priority in the plan, with an additional £2.3 billion funding over the next five years. This will give mental health a larger share of the overall funding pot than before.
We must make sure that this additional funding is put to good use. The NHS recognises that it cannot improve mental health services on its own – it will need support from local councils, central government, schools and the voluntary sector. One in four of us will experience mental health problems at some time in our lives and it is important that all the agencies work together to make sure people can access high quality mental health care.
There are specific promises about increased investment in key areas. These include mental health services being available in all A&E departments and hospital wards by 2021. There is also more funding for children and young people’s mental health, regular physical healthcare checks for people with severe mental illness, more access to talking therapies and better access to mental health support for women during pregnancy.
All of this is welcome. But there are two important tests. One is that this investment actually happens and that the support reaches the people who need it. The other point involves all of us. We need to be more comfortable talking about mental health, our own struggles and how important it is to seek help when you need it. We need to work together to reduce the stigma that too often surround mental illness. We need to recognise that mental health problems can strike anyone at any time, just as we could break an arm or a leg. More money for mental health is needed and overdue. But changing attitudes towards it is every bit as important.
Cllr Ketan Sheth is Brent Council’s Chair of the Community and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee and Lead Governor of Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust