Reacting to the Prime Minister’s speech on Mental Health

Ian Bradshaw, Policy Manager

Ian Bradshaw, Policy Manager

Today’s speech by the Prime Minister on mental health is important, but delivering her promises will need a new commitment to evidence and research.

My conclusion on mental health policy in 2016 was that we should see it as a glass half full. I had a similar reaction to the Prime Minister’s speech today, and the accompanying media coverage and publications.

There is a lot that one could quibble with, and a lot left unsaid about how the rhetoric will be turned into reality – more of which below – but this is still a positive event. After decades of neglect it finally appears that improving mental health in the UK is embedded as a priority for the very top of Government.

It is also positive that a lot of the focus is on children and young people. Too many children struggling with their mental health do not receive the care they need. Too many young people go on to develop serious mental health problems that will affect them for years to come because issues are not identified and support given early enough.[1]

However, although there is much more that could be done currently, there is also a lot that we do not know about the detail about why and how children develop mental health problems, and how to help them recover when they do. For example we need to move beyond generalised statements about the importance of tackling stigma. We need to understand how different groups understand and talk about mental health, and the different forms of stigma or prejudice they encounter (including self-stigma). Encouraging a parent to admit that their own child needs help, and not feeling that they will be judged as a bad parent as a result, is a very different problem to raising general mental health literacy.

There are many issues around children and young people’s mental health that we need to understand better. We all have personal priorities. That is why we are creating a coalition of charities, researchers and crucially young people themselves to agree what the most important unanswered questions are. Hopefully that will help us to collectively solve the biggest problems more quickly.

Of course mental health policy is more than just children and young people. Even in a perfect world many adults would still experience mental health problems. As it is too many people who were let down as young people are let down again as adults.

Again although there are many evidence based interventions that more people could currently benefit from, too many do not receive what is known to be best practice. And often what is best practice is ineffective for too many people. Research is needed not just to improve the individual forms of help or support people receive, but how they fit together and how they sit in the wider social, cultural and economic dimensions of people’s lives. Mental wellbeing is about much more than just an absence of a mental health problem. A holistic approach to understanding it is needed. That is why research like our work on how people rebuild social networks during recovery and into the value of peer support between people with mental health problems is so vital.

So whilst welcoming today’s speech we also look ahead to the Government’s strategy on mental health research that has been promised for the ‘spring’. That will tell us a lot more about how serious the Government is about delivering long lasting change.

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[1] The Centre for Mental Health’s Missed Opportunities report summarises much of the evidence here.