We all want to be physically healthy but, from time to time, we will experience ill health – whether it’s a simple cold or something more serious.
And, just like our physical health, we will, from time to time, experience mental ill health too.
Statistics show one in four people will develop some kind of mental health condition at some point in their life. This means that we will all be touched by mental ill health, either ourselves or our family.
In Wales we have made good progress in improving mental health services recently with the passing of the mental health Measure.
But as encouraging as this is, there’s still much to be done. Legislation doesn’t fix everything and there are a multitude of issues we need to tackle in order to deliver the mental health services Wales needs.
A healthier, more productive and fairer society is one in which we recognise difference, promote mental health and wellbeing and challenge health inequalities.
We need mental health services in Wales, which prevent ill health, intervene early when it occurs and improve the quality of life for people with mental health problems and their families.
A mental health strategy should focus on measurable outcomes based on people’s experience of the services they receive. A service should be considered successful based on its quality, rather than on the basis of a top-down target, which measures success on how many people can be pushed through the system.
Improved mental health and wellbeing is associated with a range of better outcomes. These include improved physical health and life expectancy, better educational achievement, increased skills and reduced health risk behaviours.
By focusing on outcomes rather than process we will not only deliver better mental health services but services that have a cumulative positive impact on other health areas.
The UK Government has just released the report No Health Without Mental Health, which sets out the English strategy for mental health services.
Maybe a similar report in Wales would be useful to set out exactly how we should deliver mental health services – Wales has different needs and issues which need to be addressed.
For example, we still lack an anti-stigma campaign. The English and Scottish campaigns have been hugely successful at raising the profile of mental health problems and tackling the unfair stigma that surrounds them. I stand firm in my belief that Wales could benefit from such a campaign.
We hear every day about the financial difficulties the country is facing but this needn’t be a hindrance. A small, focused campaign aimed primarily at employers, could do much to help. It would lay responsibility on employers to ensure the work place is a stigma-free environment by providing information and education on mental health disorders.
Ultimately, I would like to see a mental health strategy which delivers a robust, holistic service under strong leadership, in the form of an experienced and committed individual. I feel mental health is significant enough to warrant a dedicated government representative.
Crucially, Wales needs a timely and effective service aimed not only at those who suffer from mental health disorders but also their families.
Often families don’t understand these conditions or they don’t know how to deal with a loved one who has a mental health disorder. It is also often the case that when caring for someone with mental health problems, they have nowhere to turn themselves or push their own mental health to the side.
We should be looking to ensure that no matter how you are affected by mental ill health you have somewhere to go for support.
Written for the Western Mail.