A Qualified Welcome to Government Plans for Mental Health Investment

The BHWA welcomes the recent government commitment to almost £1 billion worth of investment aimed at enhancing UK mental health services, after a series of recommendations were made in a February report from the independent Mental Health Taskforce to the NHS in England, but cautions that it more still needs to be done. Whilst a wholly welcome step, the challenges surrounding the current imbalance between approaches towards physical health and mental wellbeing remain, and these diffuclties are compounded by plans entrenched in reactive strategy rather than proactive prevention.

The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health report assessed the current state of mental health and care provision in Britain and painted a positive picture about the transformation of public attitudes towards mental health.

However, it also described how decades of underfunding had left UK mental health services in a parlous state and impacted negatively on hundreds of thousands of lives. The report suggested it was high time we harnessed the widespread consensus, across both society and in the corridors of power, that there needs to be a shift towards prevention and a redoubling of our efforts to improve mental health and wellbeing.

While the additional funding aims to improve services in hospitals and in the community, the government also said a new workplace standard should be introduced, giving employees access to talking therapies and encouraging greater openness and the further removal of the stigma that can be attached to those suffering mental health issues. The announcement proposed further measures, including Individual Placements, Support Programmes and the presence of mental health experts in job centres.

We spoke to BHWA Founder member Libby Morley from Mindshift, who works frontline as an accredited mental health first aid trainer, about the government proposals and she told us, “All of the (measures) are necessary but are more ‘reactive’ responses. Companies need to be proactive and explore ways of supporting employees’ mental fitness before crisis points are hit.”

“It's a costly mistake to only focus on mental health without considering factors that affect mental wellbeing in the first place. The biggest obstacle to supporting employees lies in the culture and attitudes of an organisation. Getting a good quality conversation started, in a non-judgmental space where employees can be confident that they won't be treated any differently than if they were speaking about a physical issue, is crucial.”

Extending a similar argument, Sven Law of CBT Clinics Ltd and also a BHWA Founder added that, “While the government is right to put mental health firmly in the spotlight and strives to put it on the same footing as physical ill health, for all that we talk about the overlaps between physiological and psychological wellbeing, we still treat the two separately. This is especially true in the workplace.”

“Mental Health is quickly becoming a key focus of senior managers interested in maintaining workplace wellbeing and increasing productivity, but common mental health problems such as depression, stress and anxiety still remain one of the biggest causes of long-term absence in the UK.”

“With access to support often hampered by fear, stigma and a lack of innovative solutions to meet the competing demands of busy work and home lives, a significant paradigm shift needs to take place in workplaces to embed mental wellbeing in an overall culture of holistic wellbeing at work.”

While we see the proposals as a welcome step in the right direction, at the BHWA we believe there is still a great deal to be done to redress the current imbalance between approaches towards physical health on the one hand and mental wellbeing on the other.

Nonetheless, this is progress, if not a panacea.

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