New Horizons for mental health service users

Continuing the pre-Christmas rush to release big and/or important documents – last week brought us the Social Work Task Force final report and the CQC’s adult social care review – today the government launches its new 10-year strategy for mental health, New Horizons: A Shared Vision for Mental Health.

A quick skim through the 100-page document reveals a few key themes to the strategy, including;

  • Improving the mental wellbeing of the entire population. The inclusive nature of this strategy, to me, will help to bring down the stigma of mental health issues, which still looms large. Also, prevention is easier (and cheaper) than cure
  • Early intervention, including treating mental health problems in children and adolescents, with such things as counsellors in schools. Many children with depression go undiagnosed and often go on to have mental health problems in adulthood, again, prevention is better than cure
  • Getting people with mental health problems back into work – this can really help with self-esteem and bring people back into ‘normal’ society and also reduces the cost to the taxpayer in benefits
  • Linked to this is a campaign to tackle mental health stigma. This is needed to help ensure the other 3 points are successful.

Thus far, the response from mental health organisations has been positive. Paul Jenkins, chief executive of Rethink said it could (note: could) ‘revolutionise the quality of life and care available to people affected by severe mental illness’.

Meanwhile, Mind’s chief executive Paul Farmer has described it as a ‘turning point’ for mental health and welcomed the focus on prevention and wellbeing.

However, Farmer also noted that there is, as yet, no action plan for making the vision of New Horizons become a reality. There are action points in the document, but they are light on detail. He also added that in many areas basic mental health services are still lacking and this should not be ignored.

This hits 2 large nails on the head; government strategies often sound impressive and it’s easy to get carried away and think how good things will be, but ignoring how it will get made into reality, and such documents can also distract from what’s happening (or not) on the ground that needs to be addressed urgently.

So, while the strategy has many of the right elements in it to make genuine strides in improving the care and wellbeing of people with mental health problems, only when the action plan is in place – along with guarantees of funding, or at least no cuts to it – will it be worth getting properly excited about.

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