As the year draws to a close, people often take the time to reflect: what went well, what could have been different, what opportunities and challenges might the New Year present. For Rethink Mental Illness, this is certainly the case. Our National Members' Day in November was one opportunity to come together to consider how the landscape of mental health may change in the year ahead. But as the countdown to 2017 begins, whether it's staff, supporters, or, like me, a Trustee, everyone I meet is taking the opportunity to both look back on events of the year as well as to look forward to what's to come.
2016 had some exciting and promising developments, and mental health has continued to move up the political agenda, and has also remained in the media spotlight, documenting both successes and continued failures within mental health care.
The start of the year saw the publication of NHS England's Five Year Forward View for Mental Health. Rethink Mental Illness staff and supporters fed into the development of this broad strategy, and are therefore pleased that there is now a commitment from the Government to make wide-ranging improvements to the provision of mental health care - from quicker access to support and treatment that is close to home, to more research, and increased resources and investment across the sector. Jacqui Dyer, who opened Rethink's conference last month, and was a key player in the Five Year Forward View, positioned the report as a hallmark of hope that will hopefully be the catalyst for the change that is desperately needed to ensure that mental health is held in equal regard and is as well resourced as physical health.
As part of creating the Five Year Forward View, Jacqui also led on work to involve people with experience of mental illness in the report, hearing their ideas and opinions about priorities for change. Placing the voices of people living with mental illness and their carers is not just about being polite and inclusive. It's about being able to base our work on the best expertise available, to help us and others in the sector find the best approaches and solutions. After all, if you have lived with mental illness, either directly or as a carer, as I have, you have a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't. Rethink Mental Illness has also made developments in this area this year, over 400 people contributed to creating our first 'Involvement Charter', which will continue to ensure that people with lived experience of mental illness are put at the heart of everything we do.
Ensuring the voices of those affected by mental illness are heard was a key focus of Rethink's 'Meet your CCG' campaign, which was launched in the summer, and will continue in the New Year. The campaign is urging local Clinical Commissioning Groups to work more closely with people living with mental illness in the design and delivery of care. The campaign has had fantastic engagement so far with over 800 people requesting to meet with their CCG, and some initial meetings proving fruitful for both sides.
This year we also once again celebrated the achievements of those who work tirelessly to help raise awareness of the importance of good mental health care for all, with Rethink Mental Illness' Janey Antoniou Award. This year's winner was 23-year-old Tamanna Miah from Kent. Tamanna developed anxiety and depression after experiencing bullying, islamophobia and racism at school. Over the last 12 years, she has turned her own experiences of stigma and discrimination into the driving force behind her campaigning, tirelessly challenging attitudes, raising awareness of the realities of living with a mental illness and campaigning for better care, despite her own struggles with mental illness. It was moving to hear her story and how passionate she is about her campaigning work.
As Christmas approaches, most of us look forward to cosying up at home, which only highlights the stark contrast that exists for the many people with a mental illness who do not have somewhere decent and safe to live. The 'A Place to Call Home' campaign is calling on the Government to protect and ensure full funding for supported housing services. Many of us probably take for granted the sense of security and safety that our home provides, and yet it's important to realise just how important having a place to call home can be for our mental health.
So far, over 3,800 people have written emails to MPs, reaching 95% of all English MPs, urging them to protect this vital provision. Additionally, over 3,200 people have signed the Rethink Mental Illness petition calling on the Prime Minister to ensure full funding for safe and secure supported housing. You can still sign the petition here as we will be continuing this campaign in 2017.
We are ending the year with another demonstration of the appetite for change within the area of mental health, and the willingness of people to share their experiences and make their voices heard. Over 7,000 people have responded to a survey on the Mental Health Act, which Rethink Mental Illness has run on behalf of the Mental Health Alliance in response to an interest from Government to reform the Act to ensure it best protects the rights of those affected by mental illness.
Although it is clear that many elements are beginning to come together to create a more positive environment for mental health, it doesn't mean it's plain sailing. Austerity continues, and the impact of this is plain to see in the continuing news revealing the cuts that are still being made to funding for mental health. So although the rhetoric seems to be racing ahead, on the whole, activity on the ground still lags behind, and we still frequently hear from supporters about their struggles to access the help and support where and when they need it.
However, even as we face difficult and uncertain times, and many more challenges, what keeps me going is the amazing and overwhelming dedication from our supporters towards ensuring that anyone affected by mental illness has access the right care. It inspires and motivates me, and I know it does the same for the many people across the country that live with mental illness every day.
To each and every one of you I would like to say a heartfelt happy Christmas and let's continue the great work in 2017.
For further information and advice, visit www.rethink.org.
You can also call the Rethink Mental Illness advice service on 0300 5000 927 (lines open Monday to Friday 09:30-4:00pm and calls charged at local rate).