On Monday the Government announced that more needs to be done to help the one in four people who will suffer from a mental health problem at some point in their life and set out a new mental health action plan.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg addressed a conference which brought together mental health experts, charities and users of mental health services to talk about how mental health can be improved in this country and bring it out of the shadows.
Speaking at the conference, he said: "All too often, attitudes to mental health are stuck in the dark ages; full of stigma and stereotypes. It's time for us to bring mental health out of the shadows and to give people with mental health conditions the support they need and deserve.
Today we're calling for action - across the NHS, the mental health sector and wider society - to champion change, to transform outdated attitudes and practices and to improve the lives of people with mental health problems.
We recognise that we've got a mountain to climb. But we're working hard to ensure that the needs of those with mental health problems are considered not just in the NHS, but also across our public sector: with better support in education, employment, the justice sector, housing and elsewhere.
Ultimately, it's going to take all of us working together to achieve the change in attitudes to mental health that we need, to create an environment together where it's okay to talk about mental health."
The document Closing the Gap: Priorities for Essential Change in Mental Health outlines 25 areas for health and care services to take action which is intended to make a difference to the lives of people with mental health conditions. These changes are designed to make the system fairer for people with mental health problems. The document aims to encourage the NHS to take mental health as seriously and treat it as importantly as physical health.
From April, for the first time, patients needing treatment for a mental health problem will be able to choose where they get their care in the same way that someone needing a hip or knee replacement has had a right to choose which hospital to have their operation at since 2008. The choice will not be limited to an NHS provider - patients will also be able to choose a voluntary or independent organisation providing NHS services when they go to see their GP to seek help.
Key measures include:
- Patients will have a choice about where they get their mental health care - just as someone needing an operation can already choose their hospital or the consultant-led team that will care for them.
- From next year, waiting time standards will begin to be introduced for mental health - giving mental health patients the same rights as someone who needs, for example, a hip replacement or treatment for cataracts.
- The Friends and Family Test will be rolled out to mental health services for the first time so patients can give their own feedback on their care and mental health trusts will be able to take swift action if improvements are needed.
- Talking therapies are already helping 600,000 people - this will be expanded so that 300,000 more people will get help.
- Children with mental health problems will get more support - including an aim to roll talking therapies for children and young people out to the whole country by 2018 and better support for children moving from adolescent services into adult services.
- £43 million will be invested in pilots on better housing for people with mental health problems or learning disabilities. Architects and builders will work with mental health experts and charities to bid for projects next year with the aim of new homes beginning to be built by 2017.
Mental health problems are common and one in four people experience stress, anxiety and depression at some point in their lives. The cost of mental illness is not just counted in the NHS - it also costs the economy over £105 billion every year. Depression and anxiety alone cost £16.4 billion through NHS treatment and lost earnings. This week the research institute RAND Europe has published a report, commissioned by the government, with suggestions for better supporting people with mental health problems in getting back to work, including making sure that our health and employment services work more closely together. The Government is carefully considering the findings of this report and work is already underway to develop options for trials.