I am yet again delighted to be invited to chair this conference focused on Manchester’s mental health. Last year we saw the launch of the report of the Mental Health Taskforce, ‘the 5 Year Forward View for Mental Health’ and this year as we enter the implementation phase of the government’s recommendations on the Taskforce Report there is much to consider at a local level.
The Government have produced a series of recommendations aimed at improving mental health outcomes for children and young people and for adults. Importantly, and for the first time in England, the Government are beginning to grapple with the need to prevent mental health problems developing with recommendations aimed at improving mental health for children and young people. These include interventions within schools, such as mental health first aid and peer support. This will be further supported when the Green Paper on Children and Young People is published later this year.
This is real progress as we can no longer morally sit watchfully waiting as the mental health of our society and in particular our next generation further deteriorates – the impact on families and communities and the pressure on services is too great. Over the last few years we have collectively made the case for mental health to become a national priority and we may finally be nearing that point.
The challenge now will be to translate this national list of recommendations into a comprehensive local strategy that reaches those most at risk of developing mental health problems and leave no one behind.
Interestingly, in parallel to this national effort we have seen significant progress in the creation of local solutions. This work is reaching an interesting phase across the country with many areas understanding the importance of protecting mental health and applying their devolved powers to create a whole new response to what has and continues to be one of the greatest public health challenges of our generation. West Midlands Commission has produced a public mental health strategy covering a breadth of issues and settings from promoting good mental health in workplaces and communities through to supporting improved access to quality services for those that need them.
This strategy has been influenced by the work of international city based initiatives such as Philadephia’s Trauma Informed City Programme and New York City ‘Thrive’ -where under the leadership of the city mayor a comprehensive public mental health strategy has been developed. What these programmes have in common is the focus on those areas where there is the greatest traction to improve mental health alongside tackling the most challenging issues by testing interventions for those at heightened risk. Based on evidence of risk, Thrive NYC and Philadelphia both have a strong emphasis on those individuals and groups who experience multiple disadvantages. This includes BAME communities, those impacted by socio-economic inequalities, ex service personnel and those at either end of the age spectrum who are more vulnerable to factors beyond their control that can undermine mental health. Other areas in the UK are watching this work closely and some are now in the midst of developing similar approaches with ‘London Thrive’ well underway.
What we have learned so far from looking to these international city based initiatives is that they not only require vision as set out in the 5 Year Forward View for Mental Health but also senior local leadership. If similar strategies are to be developed in Manchester then this will mean more than the implementation of the list of recommendations from national government but a wide cultural shift in public policy development whereby mental health is viewed as a central mediating tenant. For a long time we have known that there can be ‘No Health without Mental Health’.
It is time now to stretch the paradigm further so that we understand that mental health is the key that can unlock access to all those markers of a successful society.
As the government response to the Taskforce report recognises there needs to be a ‘programme of reform beyond the NHS, extending across Government Departments and Whitehall’s arms length bodies’. To affect the necessary change at a local level public sector leaders from planning through to education will need to come together to create a comprehensive public mental health plan and to pool finances to resource this work. It is a major challenge but it is one that we need to face and to do so by looking to where it has already been successful, sharing our successes in turn. Today’s conference provides such an opportunity.
Article by Isabella Goldie, Director of Development & Delivery, Mental Health Foundation
Isabella will be chairing our fourth annual Mental Health conference, Mental Health: Forward Thinking – The Implementation Plan, that aims to support NHS staff, organisations and other parts of the system in delivering the changes required to improve mental health care for all.