Monday, 27 February 2012

Government is not delivering on mental health

Government is not delivering on mental health:

The government's mental health strategy set out five key issues affecting mental health, but current policy across departments is failing to address them.

A year ago the government's mental health strategy, No Health Without Mental Health, was published, with the aim of ensuring all departments and agencies worked together to reduce the annual £105bn cost to the UK of psychological ill health.

When the National Mental Health Development Unit was scrapped the month after the strategy was published, that work was given to mental health charities including Mind, Rethink and the NSUN network for mental health.

As part of attempting to design a practical implementation plan for the strategy, NSUN has assessed what progress has been made so far on delivering No Health Without Mental Health's objectives across government.

The strategy clearly identifies five main predeterminants of mental health that must be improved in order to deliver the practical objectives of the strategy: employment, housing, education, community cohesion and physical health. An assessment of the state of each of these factors reveals that ministers appear to be wrecking their own strategy.

Unemployment is now at an 18-year high and forecast to rise further while the latest Department for Work and Pensions' impact assessment on their own benefit changes found that 310,000 people are at risk of losing their homes. Investment in social housing has halved with less than 500 new social homes built last year.

Ofsted has recently been instructed to drop 'wellbeing' from the school inspection regime with schools minister Nick Gibb describing emotional and social education as "ghastly" and "peripheral", leading to entire school counseling and health programs being scrapped. Likewise schools are no longer required to encourage 'community cohesion', another prerequisite for good mental health according to the strategy.

On physical health, the first action Andrew Lansley took on taking office was to scrap the traffic light food labeling scheme and attack Jamie Oliver's attempts to improve nutrition in schools. Public health bodies are united in rejecting the government's 'responsibility agenda' involving McDonalds, Tesco, Pepsi and the Portman Group of brewers and distillers in ministerial food and drink policy commissions.

An email from health minister Earl Howe, recently published by the Guardian, revealed that he had asked the advice of tobacco manufacturer Philip Morris on how to resist imposing plain packets for cigarettes, despite the fact that people with mental health conditions smoke 40% of the tobacco in the UK.

The strategy also calls for new local public health bodies to prioritise mental health but the first and largest, the London Health Improvement Board chaired by mayor Boris Johnson, has instead opted to concentrate on childhood obesity and problem drinking.

While the DH would argue that it has invested £18m in continuing the anti-mental health stigma time to change campaign and sought to increase access to psychological therapies, these measures pale into insignificance in the wider context of worsening health and wider services.

If we in the third sector are to have a hope of delivering a practical implementation plan for No Health Without Mental Health then we need a genuine cross-government commitment to its aims particularly from the Department for Education, the DWP and the new public health bodies, to promote good mental health in schools, create good quality homes and jobs and clamp down on junk food, alcohol and cigarettes.

Edward Davie is communications and engagement office for the NSUN network for mental health

Guardian Professional

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