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Prevention vital but more investment needed to improve nation’s mental health, says Paul Farmer

Monday, 05 November 2018 Mind

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, has launched the Prevention Strategy and announced that the first ever Green Paper solely focusing on prevention can be expected next year.

The vision outlines some of the Government’s ambitions and plans to transform public health, including:

• Reducing loneliness and social isolation, and making social prescribing available in every local area by 2023  
• Improving people’s wellbeing in the workplace

Responding to the overall strategy, Chief Executive of Mind, Paul Farmer, said:

“Prevention must be at the heart of efforts to improve the nation’s mental health, and mental health must be at the heart of prevention. We need to build understanding that through targeted public health programmes we can prevent mental health problems from developing and from being ignored. By harnessing the capacity of our schools, workplaces and communities to support our mental health, there are a huge number of ways we can help to reduce mental health stigma and discrimination.

“We were promised £2bn extra for mental health in last week's budget, which is welcome, but resource is needed elsewhere to realise the Government's ambitions around mental health. It is clear that a huge amount of investment over many years will be required to reverse the damage caused by cuts to the NHS, social care, public health and the benefits system.”

With regard to the announcements on social prescribing, Paul Farmer said:

“We welcome the commitment to roll out social prescribing in all local areas by 2023. Loneliness and mental health are often strongly connected. Having a mental health problem increases your chance of feeling lonely, and feeling lonely can have a negative impact on your mental health. 

“People can and do recover from serious mental health problems with the right support, but there is no quick fix and mental health problems can resurface at any time, this is why there must be a more joined up approach in schools, workplaces, GP practices and throughout the NHS to ensure the support is there when people need it. We also need to look at people’s broader experiences, their lives and other challenges they face, such as psychological impact of physical health problems, abuse or trauma, poor housing, debt, unemployment or isolation and loneliness.

“Healthcare professionals can have an incredibly important role in informing and prescribing social ways to support people with mental health problems. ‘Social prescribing’ – referring people to things like exercise, changes to diet, lifestyle and community services - can make a huge difference, especially if people are on long waiting lists for talking therapies. Having said that, it’s important not to make assumptions about someone’s mental health and the way it might impact on their day-to-day life. We want self-care techniques to be seen as complementary to, rather than as a substitute for, mental health services, such as counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). We also need to acknowledge there are lots of barriers for people accessing some of the above self-care techniques.

“However, local services have been subject to substantial cuts over the past decade. This prevention strategy must be matched with long-term investment, if we want to see it become a reality and making a real difference to people’s everyday lives.”

Relating to the announcements on the role of employers, Mind’s CEO said:

“We’ve long been calling on employers to take responsibility for creating mentally healthy workplaces. This includes tackling the work-related causes of stress and poor mental health at work, promoting wellbeing for all staff, as well as supporting employees experiencing mental health problems. Offering free fruit, cycle to work schemes and counselling are just some examples of things that can make a difference, but we also want employers to create environments where staff can talk openly about poor mental health at work, and know that if they do, they’ll be given support and understanding, rather than facing stigma and discrimination. Smart workplaces are recognising the value of prioritising workplace wellbeing, and as a result, seeing happier, more engaged and productive staff who are less likely to need to take time off sick.

“It’s now been a year since the independent Government-commissioned ‘Thriving at Work’ employment review made its recommendations to employers, and some progress has been made. However we know there’s still a long way to go, with many organisations not knowing where to start when it comes to workplace wellbeing. That’s why, with support from the Royal Foundation and 11 partners, Mind has produced the Mental Health at Work gateway, which has plenty of information from a range of trusted sources.

“It’s not just about people being supported in work, however. We also need welfare and health systems that help people when their mental health deteriorates, or means they can no longer work. Investing in prevention and early intervention is really important. Equally vital is that when people do fall ill, they are able to access the support they need, when they need it. Too often, this isn’t the case. At the moment, half of people in receipt of the disability benefits need this support due to their mental health. But the current benefits system focuses too heavily on sanctions – a punitive approach which only serves to push people further from their goals of getting pack into paid work. We can’t look at these things in isolation.” 

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