It is now well known that mental health problems affect a quarter of us every year in the UK. In the course of a lifetime, mental ill health will touch everyone in some way, either personally or in the life of a family member, friend or work colleague. Mental ill health can also affect every aspect of a person's life - relationships, work, education and much more.
Local councils have a wide range of responsibilities that give them a unique and important role in both promoting good mental health and securing a fairer chance in life for citizens who have mental health problems. While local authorities are not responsible for most health services, they do a lot else besides that has a major impact on our mental health.
Local authorities in England are now responsible for public health, including from this month for children aged 0-5. They have longstanding responsibilities for social care and for housing. As well as running their own services, local councils set health and wellbeing strategies for their communities. And through council members they hold influence in their local communities. Through these means, they can take action to prevent some mental health problems, to support people who are unwell and to raise awareness and tackle myths and misunderstandings.
For all of these reasons, seven national mental health charities got together in 2012 to find a new way of supporting local elected councillors to lead the way in their communities. Through the Mental Health Challenge, we asked local authorities to nominate a 'member champion' for mental health in their council and in their community. To help them, the charities offer information and advice, evidence from research, and a network of peers in other councils.
In 2012, we knew of just one member champion for mental health, Cllr Michael Bevan of Dorset County Council. Today, we have passed the milestone of 50. That means across the country, from big city councils and boroughs to rural counties and districts, in about a third of England there is a member champion for mental health on the local council.
How member champions choose to work is up to them, and we have seen a diverse range of approaches. Some have reached out to local businesses to support the mental health of their staff and recruit more people with mental health conditions. Others have led initiatives within their councils to improve services, sometimes in partnership with the police and health services. Just as every area is different, with distinctive needs and opportunities, so every member champion for mental health has their own priorities and ways of working. Many work closely with local people who have experiences of mental ill health to ensure they make a real difference and address issues that matter most locally.
We hope that soon every council in England will have a member champion for mental health. By taking the mental health challenge, councils can start to fulfil their great potential to make local communities healthier places to live, to address some of the biggest inequalities they face and to show that mental health really is everyone's business.
For more information, please visit www.mentalhealthchallenge.org.uk