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Last Updated: Tuesday, 3 January 2006, 00:49 GMT
Mental health overhaul demanded
Despair
Mental health problems are very common
Radical changes should be made to mental health services in England over the next decade, leading health and social care groups have said.

A report published by the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health says children should be taught about mental health as part of the school curriculum by 2015.

It urges a shift in focus from mental ill health to mental well-being, with services better geared to users' needs.

The government says improvements have been made already and more will follow.

By investing in good mental health some of our nation's starkest inequalities can be redressed
Angela Greatley
Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health

The report, which the Sainsbury's Centre for Mental Health produced with the Local Government Association (LGA), the NHS Confederation and the Association of Directors of Social Services, said that, over the next decade, mental health should become everybody's business.

The key will be to reshape services to ensure that they are primarily geared towards meeting the needs of the people who use them, it said.

The report calls for people with severe mental health conditions to have their own budgets for the services they want, including alternatives to hospital.

Talking therapies, said the report, should be available as a matter of routine when people need them, along with advice on staying in work and maintaining an ordinary life.

People with mental health problems should also be offered an "associate" to help them manage their lives.

Big difference

It said that well planned and properly resourced public services can make a huge difference to the mental well-being of the whole population and, in particular, to the lives of those who have mental health problems.

HAVE YOUR SAY
People need to know that help is available and that they're not alone
Brian, Oxford

Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health chief executive Angela Greatley said: "We want public services to make a resolution to work towards this vision of what life could be like 10 years from now.

"By investing in good mental health, and offering people who experience mental distress a better service, the 77bn annual cost to society can be reduced and some of our nation's starkest inequalities can be redressed."

That cost includes health services, lost work days and 'quality of life'.

LGA mental health spokesperson David Rogers said up to one in four people would suffer from mental health problems at some point.

"It is vital that we challenge the stigma surrounding this issue and create a climate which encourages tolerance, understanding and timely treatment.

"This report sets out a challenging but achievable vision of how the overall well-being of our communities can be improved by the health sector and local government working together."

Jane Austin, of NHS Confederation, which represents more than 90% of NHS organisations, said the report set out how health, social care and voluntary organisations could work in partnership to deliver top quality mental health services.

"It is only by adopting this kind of holistic approach that all those involved in improving the mental well-being of the whole population will be able to achieve that goal."

Government progress

National Director for Mental Health Professor Louis Appleby said the National Service Framework for Mental Health had led to big changes over the last five years.

"We have seen record increases in investment and staffing, we now have over 700 specialised community mental health teams and we have the lowest suicide rate since records began," she said.

"Whilst there is still more work to do, in recent years mental health services have become increasingly responsive to the needs and wishes of the people who use them.

"As we enter the second stage of implementing the framework, we face the ambitious task of ensuring the mental well-being of society as a whole."

But Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity Sane, said: "While everyone will subscribe to ways of making it easier and pleasanter to obtain treatment, this is a well-rehearsed wish list prescribing a cloud-cuckoo land.

"This is likely to remain a utopia because, as the paper itself acknowledges, it is uncertain who will pay or whether it could ever be affordable.


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