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The Unsung Heroes: How Passionate, Driven Individuals In Communities Are Transforming Mental Healthcare

20/10/2017 17:55 BST | Updated 20/10/2017 18:06 BST

Last week, thousands of people up and down the country marked World Mental Health Day in a global expression of how far we have come in understanding mental illness and breaking down stigma. In the House of Commons I confirmed that CCGs spent £9.7billion on mental health this year - £574million more than last year.

But what made the deepest impression for me personally was meeting some of the grassroots campaigners who have had the courage to speak out about their own mental health issues at an event to mark the tenth anniversary of the Time to Change programme.

One young woman told me that she suffered depression like her mother. But because of stigma they had never talked about it at home. Now she was the first generation in the family where that had changed. Another told me about her work going round schools - encouraging others to be open about mental health by talking openly herself. Another had Asperger's and described very movingly how people failed to distinguish between his learning disability and mental illness. All of them had a burning determination to make sure other people suffered less than they had. And all of them, in their own ways, are doing far more to change attitudes than any government can.

As part of World Mental Health Day, Professor Sir Simon Wessley and Poppy Jaman also briefed the Cabinet on plans to train a million people in basic mental health first aid skills - the first country in the world to articulate this kind of ambition, although the inspiration for Mental Health First Aid comes from Australia.

And this week, we will turn our attention to another important source of community-based capital, as we open applications for a new £15million fund to improve support for people who experience a range of mental health conditions that put them at risk of experiencing an acute mental health crisis.

The Beyond Places of Safety fund is the successor to the original Places of Safety programme, which was established, alongside the Crisis Care Concordat, to confront one of the quiet scandals within mental health system - namely the thousands of people left in a police cell following a detention under the Mental Health Act.

Since then, the ingenuity and partnerships forged between statutory and voluntary organisations under local Crisis Care agreements has seen the number detained in police custody following a mental health crisis drop by over 80 per cent over the last five years.

One of the reasons has been the creation of better community support, like crisis cafés, which offer a safe haven for people to go to when they feel they're at risk of a mental health crisis.

In places like Aldershot, these simple innovations - driven by passionate voluntary sector organisations, working in partnership with the NHS - are making a huge difference to how people are treated when they become acutely unwell. 

With the new Beyond Places of Safety fund, the emphasis is now as much about prevention as it is management of people in crisis. As the name suggests, we want to go beyond simply providing a Place of Safety as defined under the Mental Health Act. We want to extend a hand of support to people before they fall ill, or when recovering from a crisis to prevent a repeat incident, as well as supporting those who are in crisis.

This can take any number of forms - from providing service users with an app that helps them self-manage their mental wellbeing following a crisis, to having cafés and drop-in centres open 24 hours a day, staffed with people trained to provide compassionate and professional support and advice.

We intend to award grants to the most innovative and impactful local collaborations between the NHS, wider public and voluntary sector to support the development of these services. At the same time we will continue to invest in other core NHS mental health services as part of our ambition to treat one million more people by 2020/21.

There may be no magic bullet to stem the rising tide of mental ill health - but these initiatives show there is a huge amount that can be done to make a real difference.

Jeremy Hunt is the Secretary of State for Health