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Five things that need to change for mental health

Monday, December 15, 2014
Your Daily Health

Up to a quarter of citizens will have some kind of mental health problem in any given year. Yet for children and adults alike, only a minority ever receive any help for it. Here, The Guardian (UK) newspaper asked the Centre for Mental Health (also in the UK) to create a manifesto to improve the nation’s mental health. These are the suggestions from Deputy Chief Executive Andy Bell:

1. Teach mental health in all schools

On average, three children in each classroom experience a mental health problem. Most common are behavioural issues, which can cast a long shadow over a child’s future, increasing the risk of mental illness, poor physical health, drug or alcohol dependency and future imprisonment.

Schools are ideally placed to protect and promote children’s mental health: children are there five days a week for most of 11 years. Every school teaches physical education—so why do we ignore mental health?

Teacher training includes nothing about wellbeing or child development. Some schools have introduced Social and Emotional Learning, a programme about teaching mental health. This needs to become the norm, not the exception.

Teaching alone will not work. Schools also need to introduce screening to help identify children in distress and promote good parenting programmes.

2. Create specialist “mother and baby” 

mental health services

One woman in ten will have a mental health problem during pregnancy or in the year after childbirth. In the worst case scenario, it leads to them taking their own lives; more often they receive no help or require expensive treatment too late. Only a minority are even diagnosed. The impact on their children’s future health can be devastating. 

3. Keep people with mental 

health problems out of custody

Imprisoning somebody is disastrous for their mental health and can increase a person’s risk of re-offending. Poor mental health is both a cause and effect of crime—this is why every police station and court needs to work in tandem with an expert mental health team to identify people at risk of offending and to respond at the point of arrest. 70 per cent of offenders in the UK have multiple mental health problems and one in ten have a severe mental illness

Of course, there will always be some people who offend. When they do, we need support for those with mental health problems so they can be referred to hospitals, GPs, drug and alcohol services and counselling. There needs to be a national system in place.

4. Employ people with mental 

health conditions

More than half of people with long-term mental health problems want to work yet less than one in ten are in paid employment. Why is this? First there is the assumption that people with mental illnesses cannot—or should not—work. Often this can come from health professionals themselves. Then there is the assumption that it is all the fault of bad employers. Of course, some do discriminate and many are still fearful of taking someone on with long term mental health problems. This is why we need good employment support—it takes the fear away. 

5. Help people with long-term 

physical health conditions

Few people with illnesses like diabetes, cancer and heart disease are asked about their mental health at the point of diagnosis—but we know that about a third have a problem. 

Mental and physical health have for too long been treated separately. Some hospitals do have mental health experts available to offer specialised support in a crisis. (


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