Scientific research and development have greatly improved preventative medicines and treatments in physical healthcare. Its reduced infant mortality rates, helped to wipe our debilitating diseases and increased life expectancy. These developments have yet to be matched in the prevention and treatment of mental health conditions, yet action is underway to improve well-being.

The Challenge of Mental Health Care

According to World Health Organization data*, depression is a leading cause of disability, suicide is the second leading cause of death in 15-29-year-olds and a quarter of the population will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.

As I publish this article, it is Children’s Mental Health Week and evidence from teachers, GPs and NHS health surveys** reveal a dramatic increase in mental health disorders in young people. Without early intervention and the tools to help them manage their well-being, this can have lifelong implications.

Despite the prevalence of poor mental well-being, there remains a significant gap between those needing care and access to support services. Mental health provision is under-resourced and fragmented. Unlike physical healthcare, there have been no improvements in mental health outcomes in 50 years.

Mental health awareness is growing. Mindset, and others in the industry, are working with organisations across the country to provide mental health audits, training and resources to enhance well-being. Whilst positive steps are being made, there is still a stigma attached to poor mental health. People fear judgement, labelling and discrimination if they speak out about their challenges.

When they are brave enough to seek professional support, the experience isn’t always positive. The Kings Fund report*** raises significant gaps in provision, with GPs not trained to manage the complex support needs of patients. It states that “children, adolescents and older people are often poorly served”.

GPs report that 40% of appointments now involve mental health issues, so it is clear that a fresh approach to patient care is needed. As part of the NHS Long-term Plan, a Community Mental Health Framework is being devised. The Kings Report highlights the need for collaboration between primary healthcare and mental healthcare teams for a comprehensive understanding of the changes needed. This could be the opportunity to greatly improve mental health provision in the UK.

New Era of Mental Health Science

Fortunately, research is underway to inform improvements to mental healthcare across the world.

Recognising the social, emotional and economic impact of mental health conditions, Wellcome is undertaking extensive research to inform a new era in mental health provision. It aims to address the disparity between physical and mental health care.

The starting points of focus are two areas close to my heart:

Wellcome is providing funding and support to the mental health science community. The aim is to review current knowledge and data, then build on this through scientific research, collaboration and the involvement of people with lived experience.

The data and insight will be shared in a global mental health databank. This resource will help professionals deliver interventions that improve outcomes and help individuals to better manage their mental well-being. This is an exciting and potentially life-saving development in mental health care. Until this is developed, research is being shared on the National Elf website.

I am fascinated to see the insight that is revealed and will use it to inform my training. Mental health provision must be valued as highly as physical care services.

*https://www.who.int/health-topics/mental-health#tab=tab_1

** https://digital.nhs.uk/data-and-information/publications/statistical/mental-health-of-children-and-young-people-in-england/2021-follow-up-to-the-2017-survey

*** https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-07/Mental%20Health%20and%20PCNs%20online%20version_1.pdf