Ensuring mental health is at the heart of the new public health system
What do we mean by public health?
Public health services aim to prevent ill health. Public health services may help people to exercise more, to manage stress, to stop smoking, to eat more healthily and any other activities to improve health and wellbeing.
In terms of mental health, public health services can
- promote good mental wellbeing for all
- prevent people who may be at risk from developing mental health problems
- improve the quality of life and physical health of people with existing mental health conditions
How are public health services in England changing?
In November 2010 the Government proposed reform of public health services in England, in the White Paper Healthy Lives, Healthy People. Mental health has not traditionally been a public health priority, but the Government emphasised the importance of preventing mental health problems in their strategy.
In the new system, from 2013 local authorities will have responsibility for commissioning public health services for their area, overseen by a new national body, Public Health England. You can find out more about how the system will work here.
What is Mind doing?
We welcome the renewed focus on mental health within the Government's reforms. Local authorities are also well placed to understand the needs of their population and ensure the full range of local services and amenities - from housing, to green space, to leisure, to employment support - promote both physical and mental wellbeing.
But in practice mental health is often absent from current debates around implementation. We are worried that public mental health interventions will lose out to traditional public health priorities such as obesity, smoking and sexual health - especially as public money is tight.
So we are influencing national policy and raising the profile of mental health as the new system is implemented:
- Our response to the public health outcomes framework secured key indicators to track local authorities' progress on improving their population's mental health
- We raised concerns around commissioning and funding in the new system
- We fed into the Royal Society of Public Health's development of mental health training for public health professionals
- We took part in a Guardian online debate on the challenges facing councils when they take on public health next year
What can you do?
We are currently developing our plans to support local Minds and people with mental health problems to influence public health priorities in their area and ensure mental health is fully integrated across council services.
To inform this work, we want to gather evidence of good practice in public health, like Sheffield Mind's 'Mind and Body' project. Have you been in touch with public health services? Do you think your council currently prioritises mental health? Let us know your thoughts and experiences by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.