Baroness Tyler writes: Mental health matters

January 20, 2015 5:51 PM
Originally published by UK Liberal Democrats

For too long, the subject of mental health has been ignored, marginalised, or left to the realm of social experiment or institutional stigma.

Why does this matter? Well, just like physical health, we all have mental health.

Mental health problems affect one in four people in any given year, and the numbers continue to rise. Mental health also costs the country £105bn a year in benefits, lost working days and tax receipts, and the cost of treatment.

Liberal Democrats in Government have already done a great deal to improve mental health services - establishing the first ever waiting time standards backed up by cash, increased access to talking therapies, establishing the Mental Health Crisis Care Concordat to set out standards for crisis care and funded the Time to Change Programme to tackle stigma and discrimination.

Much credit is due to Nick Clegg, Paul Burstow and Norman Lamb for pushing forward on this agenda.

But inevitably, after generations of missed opportunities it's just the start of the journey and there is so much more that needs doing.

What's the nub of the problem we are trying to tackle?

For me it is well summed up by John Lucas, a campaigner for the mental health charity Mind who has been diagnosed with both physical and mental health problems when he said:

"Why does the NHS pull out all the stops to stop me dying of physical health problems, but does not care if I die of mental health problems?"

Real parity of esteem means the same standards of access to treatment as happens for physical diseases such as cancer diagnosis.

To make that a reality we've got to improve funding for mental health care, especially in early intervention, children and young people's services and perinatal mental health and ensure that people are able to choose from a variety of evidence based treatments.

At present many mental health services are under severe strain and simply can't deal with the volume of people who need their help leaving too many people trying to cope on their own.

Most people with mental health problems want to work. It often aids their recovery.

So we also need to address the failure of the Work Programme with its in-built assumption that such people lack motivation and its over-reliance on sanctions and conditionality and introduce far more personalised help and support to get back into work which takes accounts of the realities of fluctuating mental health conditions.

Schools also have a golden opportunity to protect and promote children's mental health and emotional well-being at the same time as helping children attain good educational outcomes.

Mental health and emotional well-being should be a mandatory part of the curriculum for all schools, irrespective of their statue and all children in England should have access to counselling as they do in Wales and Northern Ireland.

Last week in the Lords I called for fundamental culture shift in mental health and an ambitious agenda for the next Parliament, including:

  • The adoption of a truly cross governmental mental health and wellbeing strategy including education, welfare, policing, criminal justice, housing and planning as well as a National Wellbeing Programme championing preventative action;
  • The appointment of a dedicated Minister for Mental Health with a cross government remit and a requirement that the Secretary of State for Health report annually to parliament to address progress towards parity of esteem for mental and physical health;
  • Making the NHS Constitution fairer to mental health by introducing a wider range of access and waiting time standards and putting payments systems for mental and physical health care on an equal footing;
  • Rebalancing the NHS budget to ensure that mental health services receive their fair share of funding alongside real-term increases in each year of the next Parliament;

So it was really heartening to attend yesterday's mental health conference and hear Nick and Norman talk about tackling head on the unspoken bias in the NHS that always puts physical health first.

Nick called for all parts of the system to commit to a new ambition for zero suicides and outlined how we will embed waiting time standards for mental health in all parts of the health system and transform the help available across the country for people in crisis.

This would be backed up by extra money for mental health services year on year in the next Parliament and new payments systems designed to ensure the money is used as intended and not syphoned off elsewhere.

I think this is a truly liberal agenda empowering individual people to overcome barriers and achieve their full potential.

Get this right and benefits for the nation's wellbeing could be immense.