Earlier this week Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock published 'Prevention is better than cure - our vision to help you live longer'. In his foreword he said, 'We cannot continue to invest in the same service models of the past... a greater focus, and spending, is needed on prevention, not just cure.'
And Mr Hancock is right, a radical shift really is needed. We know that prevention improves lives. And it saves money. For every £1 spent, £14 is saved to the public purse.
The vision is admirable. There is a lot to like. The document outlines how both our physical and mental health is affected and influenced by the environment, our connectivity to friends and family, by employment, by how we feel about ourselves and by our health choices and behaviours. It is great to see the impact of loneliness being talked about. It is refreshing to see digital discussed without it being pathologised as the cause of all problems.
Of course this vision should be good. Health of the Nation was published over thirty years ago and despite chronic and sustained underinvestment, there has been some excellent work, and the evidence base for prevention is strong and growing.
Robust evidence demonstrates that by working across boundaries and disciplines from early years, schools, community settings and workplaces we can improve health including mental health. There is of course no one golden bullet. Communities and organisations must build their own programme of activity that meets their needs. Rodda, a food manufacturer in Cornwall is an example of just this.
It is a pleasure to see two of my favourite things - Cornwall and mental health - together in a case study which sets out how Rodda have put together a work place well being programme which includes a cycle to work scheme, bereavement and legal service, counselling provision and will soon include Mental Health First Aiders.
At Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England we are committed to playing our role in improving mental health as part of a whole system approach. A RAND review of the evidence of workplace programmes, commissioned by Public Health England showed that out of 117 programme studied, MHFA England training was among the top five identified as meeting the highest standards of evidence (Nesta level 3). This was based on the training’s proven effectiveness at increasing knowledge, confidence, attitudes and behaviour around mental health.
Despite the positive impact and the importance of prevention for too long the rhetoric has not translated into practical action. Investment in public health is key to this. The radical reduction in teenage pregnancy rates and much increased support for teenage parents is evidence that with sustained investment, strategic leadership and multi-disciplinary action we can really make a difference. The reduction in smoking rates is another public heath success story. Both had important levers for such radical improvement - ring-fenced funding for teenage pregnancy, and legislative change on smoking.
Along with collaborators in the mental health sector and across business we believe a step change in mental health requires both: protected investment for mental health interventions, and a change in legislation to require workplaces to have mental health first aiders on a par with physical health first aiders. If you want to find out more about, or add your support to our 'Where's Your Head At?' campaign you can do so here.
There has been a significant shift in public awareness of mental health in recent years. That, combined with a strong policy focus on mental health creates ideal conditions for change. With focused investment and collaboration nationally and locally, there is an opportunity for radical action and most importantly outcomes. A truly joined up approach - to promote mental health and reduce stigma, provide effective mental health support and service, build vibrant connected communities and nurture a mentally literate society - is what we should be aiming for. Has there ever been a better time to do so?