Mental health problems are more common that many people realise, affecting around one in four people every year. For decades, NHS mental health service provision has lagged far behind the standards of care we take for granted when it comes to our physical health and fresh cuts in recent years have really taken their toll. Waiting lists for many therapies are months, even years, long and, in an emergency, many people are being left to struggle alone as services fail to cope with rising demand.
Mind's Chief Executive Paul Farmer is independent co-chair of the NHS's mental health taskforce, which is currently developing a five-year strategy for mental health. The taskforce's call for evidence was met with an overwhelming response, from over 20,000 individuals and organisations, and firm consensus about the need for huge improvement to NHS mental health services. Better access to high-quality services, a wider choice of treatments, more focus on prevention, more funding and less stigma came top of the list for change by 2020.
But one thing is also very clear - mental health is about much, much more than NHS mental health services.
Mental health affects and is affected by every area of our lives. Our employment circumstances, housing situation, financial security, the quality of our personal relationships, where we fit into our local community - all of these things can have a profound impact on our wellbeing. And all of these things are influenced by public policy. Any attempt to improve the NHS must be underpinned by a focus on mental health across all government departments because, until we acknowledge that mental health goes far beyond the remit of health services, we are only storing up more demand for the NHS in future.
In our own General Election manifesto, we called for a Cabinet-level Minister to coordinate and promote the wellbeing agenda across all departments. Labour, it appears, have heeded our call, as Jeremy Corbyn announced yesterday that Luciana Berger MP will take up the new role of shadow 'minister for mental health'. We don't yet know what responsibilities the post will include, or whether the role will be solely about mental health, but it is understood that the role will report to the shadow Secretary of State for Health. The remit, however, can and absolutely should go way beyond NHS mental health services.
We need to see properly joined-up, cross-departmental thinking around mental health. Having a shadow minister for mental health is an approach that could help get this right. We know that Luciana Berger MP is already passionate about mental health and we hope this passion will inspire her colleagues to think about what they can do to promote good mental wellbeing in their own work, for the benefit of all of us living with mental health problems.
Louise Rubin is the Parliamentary Manager at Mind