Page last updated at 11:48 GMT, Monday, 7 December 2009

Ministers target depression in government policy shift

Depressed youth sitting on steps
Depression or anxiety affects one in six people at some point

Schools, employers and GPs all have more of a role to play in mental-health care in the UK, ministers say.

Investment in recent years has focused on improving treatment, but the new 10-year strategy calls for more emphasis on prevention and early intervention.

In particular, it highlighted the importance of helping people back into work to aid recovery from mental illness and preventing it recurring.

Campaigners said the move represented a "promising start" in changing policy.

Mental illness accounts for a greater burden of disease than any other condition.

A fifth of early deaths are related to mental health problems, compared to under a sixth for both heart disease and cancer.

Since 2001, spending on mental health services has increased by nearly 50%.

This has helped improve access to a range of services, such as talking therapies.

Now that this benchmark has been set, it represents a turning point that no new government can turn back from
Paul Farmer, of Mind

Depression or anxiety affect one in six people at any given time, but research shows only a quarter of those get medical help.

The new strategy - set out in a series of reports which were based on recommendations made by a government-appointed panel of experts - focuses mainly on ways the approach to mental health can be broadened.

Employment is one of the key priorities, ministers drawn from the Department of Health, Cabinet Office and Department for Work and Pensions - and given the backing of the devolved administrations - said.

Research shows that working is beneficial for people with mental health issues.

One study found for every £1 spent on employment programmes, £1.72 is saved on treatment.

To help improve the low rates of employment among those with problems, the government is planning to appoint mental health co-ordinators to work with Job Centres across the country.

Intervening early

Dedicated advice lines are also to be set up for small businesses to give their staff direct access to occupational health professionals to help them stay in work.

Government-backed work placements are also to be piloted to help people return to work.

But ministers have also called for employers to their bit by making managers more aware about how to handle mental illness.

And the government wants to see GPs intervening early.

Employment - Network of coordinators to work with Job Centres to help mentally ill back into work and dedicated helplines to work with small businesses
GPs - To be encouraged to do more to intervene early
Schools - Counselling services to be rolled out to start educating children about the issue

The strategy argued doctors should be routinely raising the issue of depression and then referring people on to specialist services if need be.

A specialist training programme is to be designed by the Royal College of Psychiatrists to help doctors with this.

Schools were also highlighted. Schools-based counselling services are already being trialled in some places and these are expected to be rolled out nationally next year.

But the reports also said there should be more integration between councils and the NHS, pointing out people with mental health problems often need help with issues such as housing.

Professor Louis Appleby, the government's mental health tsar, said: "We need to be better at preventing depression, better at treating it and better at reducing the impact of depression."

Prof Louis Appleby: return to work is 'good for the employee and the employer'

And care services minister Phil Hope said: "If we can get this right, we can improve the lives of many people."

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Dr Andrew McCulloch described the strategy as a "promising start".

Paul Farmer, head of Mind, the mental health charity, added: "Now that this benchmark has been set, it represents a turning point that no new government can turn back from.

"Good mental wellbeing isn't just about treatment, it's also about prevention.

"By focusing on the factors that take their toll on our wellbeing in the first place, we have a chance at achieving better mental health for everyone."

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