THE BLOG

Decades of Not Understanding Mental Health Has Left Too Many Unhelped - But We Are Getting There

16/12/2014 00:09 GMT | Updated 14/02/2015 10:59 GMT

There is a welcome change happening in the way we talk about mental health and the amount we are talking about it. The stigma of mental health problems is still stubbornly there but I see so many reasons to be positive because things are changing.

Yes, we need to go faster and decades of not understanding enough about mental health has meant too many people haven't been helped. But we are getting there, changing attitudes and revolutionising a system set up solely for physical health.

Recent provisional data shows that hospital admissions for self-harm for young people aged 11-19 are at their highest for five years. Maybe it is better reporting, maybe it is a result of the added stresses young people face. But these figures represent real young people and their families and the serious emotional distress they face.

Some find it difficult to talk about their mental health, which is why it is so important for those who can to be open about the problems they have faced. Don't underestimate how important it is to encourage others to feel they can talk about it. In a way, it's the most important thing.

I want young people to get good and compassionate personalised care. I want them to be given both physical and mental health care which helps them in their time of need but also gives them techniques and support to help prevent or manage further problems.

That's why, earlier this year, I convened a Taskforce to advise us on improvements to mental health services for children and young people. This is the first time a group of experts from across, health, education and social care have come together to focus on making sure every young person gets the care they need. Crucially, we are also involving young people in this work so they can give their views on what they want from services. And it's my aim that services don't just stop at the youngsters themselves - services need to support entire families to deal with the challenges of living with mental illness.

When I speak to people who are living with mental ill health they just want the same level of good service that they would receive if they had a physical health need. Good mental and physical health care go hand in hand. I have visited some areas which are already providing excellent care for young people with problems such as self-harm but this should be the reality everywhere.

We have legislated for equality between mental and physical health and included it in our Mandate to NHS England so they know what we expect.

But we want to go further than this, we're introducing the first ever waiting time standards for mental health services, a right to get treated within a defined period, including a target for young people experiencing their first episode of psychosis to be treated within two weeks - ending decades of unfairness where standards only applied to physical health.

The standards will be backed by £33million investment next year. This follows a £7million spend on new children's beds this year, as well as the £54 million we've provided to boost young people's access to psychological therapies.

We've also made £30million available to invest in psychiatry in more general hospitals so that, for example, someone going to A&E with self-harm injuries will get support for mental health problems as well as the physical injury. This is part of the £80m for mental health services next year that was announced by the Deputy Prime Minister in October.

Schools have a vital role to play in making sure young people get the support they need. We've invested £3million in a website called MindEd which supports anyone working with children - from teachers to sports coaches and dinner ladies to Scouts leaders - to spot the signs of mental health problems as early as possible.

We're determined to improve care for anyone in crisis, which I why I've asked every local area to sign our Crisis Care Concordat, which makes clear under 18s should never end up in a police cell in a mental health crisis. Already the use of police cells for people in crisis has reduced by 24% so far this year.

We are working hard to bring treatment for mental health problems on a par with physical health. It is an important step forward in the long journey to end years of discrimination.