Western Mail column: Putting mental health on the agenda in 2016
During my time as Chief Executive of Gofal I have seen mental health rise up the agenda in the National Assembly with support from all four political parties. From Together for Mental Health to the ground-breaking Mental Health (Wales) Measure, we have made important steps towards a mentally healthy Wales.
However, with National Assembly elections on the horizon we must ensure that mental health is on the agenda during the campaign and when the next Welsh Government is formed.
For this reason we were delighted to launch our election manifesto on the 7th October, which has been developed in partnership with the Mental Health Foundation and supported by Bipolar UK, Diverse Cymru and Samaritans Cymru. The views and experiences of people with mental health problems are at the heart of our manifesto and were a key part of our launch event, with powerful contributions from Eluned Parrott AM and Gofal volunteers Manon and Lisa.
The first section of our manifesto is called ‘Supporting Future Generations’ because we believe that a mentally healthy Wales requires a focus on promoting good mental health and wellbeing from an early age. This includes support for women and their families during and after pregnancy, building confidence and resilience among children, encouraging young people to talk openly and positively about mental health and providing high quality support in schools, colleges and universities. The Donaldson Review recommendations provide an ideal opportunity to embed mental health and wellbeing throughout the school curriculum.
Unsurprisingly, access to psychological therapies remains a key issue for many people with mental health problems. Timely access to psychological therapies can improve recovery and reduce the need for more acute services. However, too many people are still waiting too long to access this type of support. The Wales Psychological Therapies Plan for Adult Mental Health is currently being developed and we believe that its implementation must be a priority for the next Welsh Government.
We know that all areas of life can affect people’s mental health and wellbeing. That’s why we use a holistic, whole person recovery model in our services and why our manifesto calls for sustained cross government action and accountability. We warmly welcomed the cross-Cabinet commitment in Together for Mental Health. However, it is essential that the next Government maintains this commitment. Mental health is everyone’s business and we need every Minister and department to play their part.
We know that people with mental health problems continue to face inequalities when it comes to physical health and access to quality accommodation, education and employment opportunities. Research shows that compared with the general population, people with a serious mental illness have three times the risk of dying of heart disease and a life expectancy of up to 20 years shorter. People with mental health problems are less likely to be homeowners and more likely to live in unstable environments. Mental health conditions are the primary reason for claiming health-related benefits yet an estimated 86-90% of unemployed people with mental health conditions want to work.
We must do more to address these issues and ensure that people with mental health problems can live healthy and fulfilled lives. People’s outcomes and experiences must be recorded across a range of life areas so that we know whether spending and policy is delivering positive changes to people’s lives.
We also need to ensure that groups at a higher risk of experiencing mental health problems, such as BME groups, LGBT people and homeless people get the support they need. They often face multiple discrimination that prevents them from getting the help and support they need.
One of the biggest challenges facing people with mental health problems is stigma and discrimination. 9 out of 10 people with mental health problems say they experienced stigma and discrimination. Many say that the stigma is worse than the illness itself. It prevents them from living their lives, from going down the shops or meeting friends, to applying for jobs and securing work.
Along with our partners in Hafal and Mind Cymru we have been very proud to lead Time to Change Wales, the first national campaign to end the stigma and discrimination facing people with mental health problems. The campaign has made great strides forward but we need a long term commitment to tackling stigma, so that we can deliver generational change in attitudes and behaviour.
We hope that our manifesto is the start of many more conversations with political parties in the lead up to the Assembly elections in 2016. The issues raised within this document are all key factors in developing a mentally health Wales where people can live fulfilled lives and achieve their aspirations.