Schools, social workers, local authorities and healthcare services will receive extra support to make sure people know how to promote good mental health in the same way that they look after physical wellbeing, Theresa May has announced.
Every new teacher will be trained in how to spot the signs of mental health issues and the prime minister pledged better access to education, training and support across communities as part of an overhaul of society’s approach to mental illness.
Theresa May said: "It’s time to rethink how we tackle this issue, which is why I believe the next great revolution in mental health should be in prevention.
"The measures we’ve launched today will make sure at every stage of life, for people of all backgrounds, preventing mental illness gets the urgent attention it deserves," she added.
The package of prevention measures announced include:
- Training for all new teachers on how to spot the signs of mental health issues, backed up by updated statutory guidance to make clear schools’ responsibilities to protect children’s mental wellbeing
- All 1.2 million NHS staff will be encouraged to take suicide prevention training from the Zero Suicide Alliance, which we have already committed to support with £2 million of government investment
- There will be support for school mental health leads so they can help children struggling with self-harm and risk of suicide
- Teachers will have access to training materials for all teachers to use in classrooms to meet the new requirements for mental health education for all primary and secondary pupils
- Extra funding will be provided to support local authorities to strengthen and deliver local suicide prevention plans.
- Professional standards for social workers across England will be updated to increase their knowledge and skills when helping those with mental health issues.
There will also be a national awareness campaign launched in October around looking after your mental health called Every Mind Matters. From 2020 parents will also get access through the campaign to targeted advice on how to deal with issues like stress, online bullying and self-harm.
New parents will be given support from health visitors and other professionals to better support their babies’ behavioural and emotional development.
The measures will also fast track action against undignified and unequal treatment for those in mental crisis – including by committing to overhaul the Mental Health Act to make it fit for modern society.
This legislation will include banning the use of police cells as a place to detain people experiencing mental illness.
A White Paper will be published before the end of the year in response to Sir Simon Wessely’s review of the Mental Health Act, setting out the steps taken to tackle unequal treatment faced by ethnic minority groups.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, the mental health charity, said: "We welcome the sustained momentum from the Prime Minister and government to improving support for people with mental health problems.
"It’s particularly positive to see such priority given to young people’s mental health – our recent work in schools has shown us the true scale of the need and, as most mental health problems start in childhood, decent support as early as possible is key.
"We also welcome progress on the Mental Health Act review.
"Finally, it’s encouraging to see government acknowledge the enormous impact that financial problems can have on mental health, and recognition that improving the wellbeing of the nation is about more than getting NHS services right alone," he added.
Action for Children’s director of Policy and Campaigns, Imran Hussain, said: “With growing numbers of children and teenagers battling mental health problems, we welcome any investment from the government to improve things for them – but their proposal lacks the urgent pace and ambition needed to address this crisis.
"Every day Action for Children’s front line staff see the pressures our children and teenagers are under – with many suffering day in, day out as they deal with depression, anxiety or losing sleep at night. And they’re being left without desperately needed support, due to the deep cuts made over the last decade to early help services, such as children’s centres - closing at a rate of one per week since 2010.
"The right early help services can stop problems in their tracks reducing a child’s pain and anguish as well as the need for intensive support later. Government plans now need to go further and take a more joined up approach to supporting children from their earliest years, with adequate funding and targeted support to stop a generation of children from suffering mental health issues in the future," he added.
However, Dr Mary Bousted, joint general secretary NEU, said: “The aspiration to train school staff to spot signs of mental illness amongst pupils is welcome, but it will amount to little more than a sticking plaster.
"If the Prime Minister is genuine about wanting to focus on prevention, then a cross-Government strategy on tackling poverty and inequality is needed. The ‘exam factory’ culture of testing, driven from Whitehall, is one significant cause of anxiety and low self-esteem among young people. It is why the NEU has been urging government to put child wellbeing at the heart of education policy.
“Schools need strong pastoral systems, but teachers cannot cover for the cuts to mental health specialists. Recognising the early signs is important but timely routes to appropriate professional treatment is essential. At the moment referrals lead to long waiting times – children and young people should not have to threaten or attempt suicide before accessing CAMHS.
“School leaders are deeply anxious that real-terms cuts mean they must let go counsellors and parental engagement posts. Mental health services, like schools, have been significantly reduced from the effects of under-funding throughout May’s premiership. Cuts to all children’s services have increased pressure on families. Schools plainly can’t tackle this aspect of child health alone. The growing problem of child mental health illness must be tackled by much greater capacity in specialist service, matched with the reversal of cuts to school budgets," she concluded.