THE BLOG

Putting Mental Health at the Centre of Debate

03/11/2014 09:51 GMT | Updated 29/12/2014 10:59 GMT

Mental health is so often in the news for the wrong reasons its good to finally have a few things to cheer about. Last month, though little noticed, Nick Clegg announced the start of a genuinely preventative programme in mental health with the launch of a series of front line mental health support pilots for blue light workers. People working in the emergency services experience some of the highest levels of work related stress, so it is absolutely the right place to start. And with poor mental health costing UK businesses £26 billion a year, taking mental health seriously in the workplace needs to be on every employers' agenda - with government leading the way.

This followed on from Ministerial commitment to continue funding for Time to Change, the campaign to end mental health stigma, and a rallying call for all FTSE 100 companies to sign up. It is a clear statement that good mental health should matter to all of us, and its heartening to see that companies like Royal Mail, Marks and Spencer and Barclays have already come on board.

And there was more - the Department of Health announced the launch of a series of pilots to help people who have fallen out of employment back into work. These moves are a great step forward, recognising not only the huge impact work can have on mental health, both good and bad, and, critically, beginning to see good mental health as everyone's business.

But of course there needs to be better specialist support too, so earlier this month the Deputy Prime Minister announced that, from next April, waiting time standards for access to talking therapies will be put in place for the first time. Most people with mental health problems who go to the NHS for help will be guaranteed the treatment they need within six weeks, and people experiencing their first episode of psychosis should be able to access treatment in as little as two weeks. These waiting times, though only a starting point, are a hugely significant milestone. They set in place for the first time maximum waiting times and send a clear signal that people suffering the debilitating and deeply disturbing impact of mental health problems can no longer be expected to languish indefinitely, without support - and too often without hope - on ever growing waiting lists.

They help to make a reality of the parity of esteem that I put at the heart of mental heath policy and law when I was in the Department of Health, and has been enthusiastically continued by Norman Lamb. And there was more. More money - £120 million in the next two years, more investment in psychiatric support in A&E, and more inpatient beds and better support for children and young people who far too often are sent hundreds of miles away from their homes, families and friends when their mental health reaches a crisis point. All areas crying out for improvement and all areas that the CentreForum Commission I chaired called for urgent action on.

As ever there is still more to do - the additional funding promised is a good start, and against the backdrop of austerity budgets is a huge achievement that Nick Clegg and Norman Lamb deserve enormous credit for - but I am pleased to say Lib Dems have nailed our colours to the mast and announced ambitions in mental health that go much further. As Nick told conference delegates in his Leader's speech, mental health will be on the front page of our next manifesto - one of our key priorities. And we have committed to making sure that half of the extra NHS funding Lib Dems have promised will go towards mental health. I am delighted to say we have committed to keeping mental health at the centre of the political debate - now let's hear everyone talking about it.