We Need Action On Mental Health, Not More Sound Bites

09/05/2017 13:02 BST | Updated 09/05/2017 13:02 BST

The civil rights campaigner and poet Maya Angelou once said her mission was to thrive, not just survive.

Like Angelou, we all want full and rewarding lives. Yet too many of us are struggling on a daily basis just to keep ourselves together emotionally.

That's why this year's Mental Health Awareness Week is focusing on how to make the shift from surviving to thriving, and improve the nation's well-being.

It's welcome and timely given the general election. Many babies will be kissed, speeches made and sound bites created over the next few weeks, but what's needed is real action on mental health once polling day is over.

Figures from the Mental Health Foundation show that two thirds of Britons have experienced mental ill health at some point in their lives. This shows action is needed now more than ever to address the issue of mental ill health among a hidden majority.

My hope is that the next government will make more support available for people with issues such as depression and anxiety, or those in crisis. That whichever party is in power recognises that lives can only be changed for the better with proper investment. That funding must go towards appropriate services that meet the needs of individuals, especially those with complex problems.

At Turning Point, the feedback we receive from those we support is they want to be listened to. They want their voices heard, to have a say in how services are designed and for them to be easy to access.

What is also crucial is equipping those feeling overwhelming emotional distress with the 'tools' to help them cope better and prevent another crisis. This is a crucial part of the work our crisis teams carry out on a daily basis, and gives people hope of a better future.

There's no doubt progress has been made over the past few years in making mental health a priority.

I was a member of the taskforce that reported how services have been marginalised, neglected and underfunded for decades. The response from ministers was a £1bn a year programme to overhaul waiting times, expand support and put spending on an equal footing with physical health.

Pledges have been made too for more support in the workplace and for investment in community services, for 24-hour crisis teams and targeted help for mothers before and after having their babies.

The stigma of mental illness is lifting. More people are coming forward to share their experiences and getting a sympathetic response instead of a negative one.

Yet for every step forward there is always a step back- and we still have a long way to go. Despite the promise of more funding, cuts to services continue. The crisis in social care provision means over-stretched A&Es are becoming the place for those suffering a mental health crisis to turn.

Money for mental care is also not getting through to those who need it most- and that is unacceptable. New figures released last month indicate that clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) in five areas in England will spend around £4.5m less over the next year.

Schools under financial pressure are having to cut services, such as counselling care for pupils. According a joint report by the Health and Education Committees, four in five head teachers surveyed said a lack of money prevented them from providing adequate resources for children's well-being.

Not making mental health a priority would be short-sighted. We already know that the cost of mental ill health to the economy, the NHS and society as a whole is around £105 billion a year.

If you are someone with a severe problem then there is a significant personal cost too - your life expectancy is likely to be up to 20 years shorter. To me, that is a tragedy that could be avoided.

My message for the next Prime Minister is be more ambitious on mental health. Build on what has already been achieved. Ensure those who face the greatest inequalities are a priority. And follow through on what has already been promised.

Do not let this be yet another opportunity missed.