Headlines: June 14th, 2005

A vision of mental health policy in 2025 is set out today in a report that claims that in twenty years time maintaining good mental health could be as important and popular as keeping physically fit. ‘Mental Health in the Mainstream’, published by the Institute for Public Policy Research predicts that there will be far less stigma attached to mental health problems.The report suggests a future where policy on the issue is no longer dominated by measures to protect the public from a small number of dangerous mentally ill people. It says the use of medication will be drastically reduced and those who have problems will be able to access drop in services in their neighbourhood.

To bring about this vision the ippr wants policies for dealing with acute mental illness to be balanced by measures to maintain mental health and to tackle more common problems such as depression. In its recommendations the report calls for the area of mental health to become a bigger priority for all policymakers rather than being seen as a specialist concern within the NHS.

The recommendations include more cost effective spending on mental health with reduced dependence on expensive medication for common mental health problems. Overall, the report predicts, spending on mental health as a proportion of the NHS budget will need to rise. The study also calls for community orientated primary care and the development of walk-in centres supporting everyone in all aspects of a healthy life – mental and physical. It also wants to see access workers based in every neighbourhood in Community Health Centres, Children’s Centres, Libraries and GP surgeries.

Jennifer Rankin, ippr researcher and author of the report said there had been real progress in government approaches and public attitudes to issues like depression, but services had not kept pace with demand or improved in the way that much of the NHS had done.

“They remain concentrated on a small group of people who are acutely unwell. This does not adequately help all those with long-term mental health problems or people with more common experiences of depression and anxiety. The health system should better promote the mental health of the whole community,” she said.

Figures show that in 2000 around 2.5 million adults of working age were being treated for mental health problems and two years later 30 per cent of all GP consultations and half of follow-up consultations were related to mental health problems.