Sunday, 3 November 2013

World Mental Health Day | Leicester Mercury column

Column for the Leicester Mercury for World Mental Health Day.

Thursday this week is World Mental Health Day. This is an important and timely occasion to consider the city’s approach to mental health.

Good mental health is as important as good physical health and this should be a guiding principle of all those organisations providing health services in Leicester. In recent years we have seen improvements in the NHS approach to mental health but there is much more to do. Much of what the NHS does for mental health problems does not share the same limelight as services for physical illness.

This has to change. There remains an urgent need to push mental health services beyond their historic Cinderella status in the NHS. There are two reasons why this is vital. First, because anyone accessing services for mental health problem deserves nothing but the best. I want mental health services in our NHS and in Leicester to be the best. This should not just be an expectation but our challenge to organisations providing services.

The second reason is that we need to shift perceptions and understanding of mental health in society. There remains a stubborn stigma around mental illness. Take the recent examples of two major supermarket chains selling ‘Mental Patient’ and ‘Psycho Ward’ fancy dress costumes. These offensive products led to a public backlash and both costumes were withdrawn from sale and the supermarket companies made donations to mental health charities.

This example illustrates the challenge we still face in tackling stigma and securing a more positive, mature and understanding approach to mental health in society. It remains too easy for some to slip back into clumsy language and a view of mental illness that is of a bygone era.

I am determined that here in Leicester we work to be a city that challenges stigma, properly understands mental health and has an ambitious approach to better mental health and wellbeing. Improving mental health is one of five key priorities set out in the city’s joint health and wellbeing strategy which was agreed and adopted by partners, including the city council, in April this year.

The city’s health and wellbeing board will work with partners including the city council, GPs, hospital trusts, voluntary groups and patients to make this happen. Mental health services in Leicester need to meet the expectations of patients and the whole community.

Challenging stigma and improving levels of understanding and awareness of mental illness requires a collective effort across different organisations. World Mental Health Day is a useful opportunity to reflect on the importance of this task but to also to reaffirm our commitment and determination to address it.

This column was first appeared in the Leicester Mercury, 10 October 2013.