Mental illness affects everyone, from all backgrounds and all ages. One in four of us will experience a a mental health problem, so this is an issue that touches our families, our friends and our loved ones – all of us.
As Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Mental Health, and in my career before I became an MP, I have campaigned for better care and an end to the stigma that surrounds mental health problems. So I am delighted that Theresa May has committed to fight the burning injustice of inadequate treatment, to step up the momentum on prevention, and is making mental health a defining issue for her Government.
The Prime Minister is rightly putting children and young people at the centre of her new approach. When I visit schools and colleges I often hear about how let down young people feel. They tell me that there is misunderstanding and confusion about mental health, that there are long delays in getting treatment and when they do get help it’s often inappropriate or inadequate. Life lived in part on social media seems to make things that much harder for young people now than when I was a teenager. Plans to train teachers to spot children who may be struggling and help schools work more closely with the NHS are very welcome. These measures also build on, and demonstrate a clear commitment to the NHS’s own proposals for transforming mental health care, set out in the Five Year Forward View For Mental Health.
I also welcome the Government’s enhanced Suicide Prevention Strategy, backed up by a £25 million spending commitment from 2018. The Health Select Committee, of which I am a member, recently conducted an inquiry into suicide prevention, and it’s good to see the Government has acted on some of our recommendations. I’m particularly pleased that the new strategy emphasises the importance of information sharing, and getting patients’ families more involved with their treatment. The committee also recommended that the Government recognise the value of the voluntary sector in helping to identify individuals who may be at risk of suicide and offering alternative routes into therapy. The Suicide Prevention Strategy takes this up, for instance pledging to work with sports groups, particularly to reach young and middle-aged men.
The next step is translating ambitions into actions. To do that Ministers must put mechanisms in place to implement Theresa May’s proposals, along with those set out in the Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. One way of doing this is through the Sustainability and Transformation Plans currently being drawing up by that NHS and Social Care organisations across the country. Welcoming the latest announcements in the House of Commons, I called on the Health Secretary not to sign off any STP unless it includes clear proposals and funding for improving mental healthcare. He confirmed that one of the key targets on which STPs will be judged against is mental health.
Ending stigma and creating a society where mental health is taken as seriously as physical health is a huge challenge, not least with so many pressures on the NHS. I welcome the Prime Minister’s determination not to allow Brexit to crowd out other priorities, and particularly her determination to improve mental health in the UK.