18/08/2014 13:04 BST | Updated 18/10/2014 06:59 BST

Why Mental Health Must Stay on the Agenda

Mental illness can affect everyone and anyone. Male or female. Old or young. Rich or poor, in or out of the public eye. As Ed Miliband said, it is 'the biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age.'

Dealing with mental illness can be hard enough even if you have access to all the help and support you might need. It's difficult to imagine how tough it must be for those people who aren't able to ask for support or those who do seek help and are turned away. Sadly, this is increasingly what is happening in our mental health services.

The incoming president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists last week said less than a third of people with mental health problems get any treatment at all.

For those who are in touch with services, some patients are forced to travel hundreds of miles, away from friends and family. There has been an increase in children placed on adult wards and teenagers as young as fourteen detained in police cells because there was nowhere else for them to go. If these were children with broken arms waiting months and months for treatment, or cancer patients being denied help, there would be a public outcry, but instead these failings in mental health happen off the radar.

It is the Government's responsibility to ensure the right services are in place to meet the needs of our most vulnerable people. Yet an investigation by the Health Service Journal (HSJ) revealed that there are 3,640 fewer nurses and 213 fewer doctors working in mental health in April this year compared to staffing levels two years ago. The NHS's 57 mental health trusts have lost over £250 million of their funding in the same period.

Services for depression and anxiety provided through the NHS programme, Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) are struggling with demand. In a survey by Pulse Magazine, a shocking 84% of GPs said they had been forced to treat their patients with medication instead of talking therapy because they could not be helped by their local IAPT service.

This appalling picture should be a national scandal, but the growing crisis in our mental health services has unfolded relatively unnoticed.

Our mental health system is failing at a time when it should be being made a greater priority.

It is now a legal requirement for the Health Secretary to address the current disparity between physical and mental health in the NHS but it took Jeremy Hunt one year and five months to visit a mental health service.

Ministers have yet to turn their rhetoric into reality. Data that I recently obtained through a Freedom of Information survey showed that in their first year, Clinical Commissioning Groups spent an average of 10 per cent of their annual budgets on mental health, despite mental illness accounting for 23% of the national burden of disease.

This shows just how much further there is to go in making mental health a priority.

We must change the status of mental health, not just in our National Health Service, but just as importantly, in our wider society. Good mental health doesn't start in hospital or the treatment room; it starts in our workplaces, our schools and our communities. This is why mental health will be a top priority for the next Labour government.

We must ensure that mental health stays on the agenda, not just now when its effects are so publicly and devastatingly obvious, but until everybody who is unwell, regardless of whether they have a physical or mental illness, gets the help and support that they need.