It has been truly heartening to see mental health surge in prominence in recent years. The latest steps announced by Theresa May today are a true testament to the desire she set out when she became Prime Minister to tackle the burning injustices of modern society.
Under these plans, all new teachers will be taught how to spot the signs of mental health issues. Schools will also be given a statutory responsibility to protect children’s mental wellbeing. All 1.2m staff in the NHS will be encouraged to take suicide prevention training from the Zero Suicide Alliance.
This builds on a consistent record over the last 9 years of Conservative Government in which mental health has slowly gained parity with physical health. One area I am particularly keen to see greater parity is in the provision of mental health training as part of first aid courses. Mental health first aid has already been delivered to at least one member of staff to over 1,300 secondary schools and the Government has set aside £5m in funding to deliver mental health first aid and awareness training to a member of staff in all primary schools across England by the end of this Parliament. This is in addition to a £15m national campaign launched in autumn in 2018 to train 1m people in mental health awareness and first aid.
We have also introduced the first ever NHS mental health waiting targets and expanded access for people who require aftercare services under the Mental Health Act to have the right to a personal health budget, giving them greater choice, flexibility and control over their health and care support.
These measures, as well as future ones, are backed up by investment in the NHS: an extra £2.3 billion per year by 2023/24. This will revolutionise the breadth of access to mental health treatment. For example, 70,000 more children a year will have access to specialist mental health care by 2020-21.
However, it is important to remember that more funding is not a solution in and of itself, as it does not tackle the root causes of mental health conditions. This is why measures to spread awareness of mental health issues and treatment, such as those announced today, are so important.
This is by no means the end, as this Government has plenty of future policies in the pipeline. For example, we must wait for the result of the university student mental health taskforce, which was launched last March by the Government and made up of representatives from leading sector groups such as UCAS, the National Union of Students, Student Minds, Universities UK, the Association of Colleges and the Office for Students. I look forward to the results of their research, policies and measure to help university students manage the transition from sixth form, giving students the support they need to ensure that going to university remains a positive, life-changing experience.
Looking after one’s physical health is second nature. It is about time looking after our mental health becomes just as natural.
Notes to editors
1. Adam Afriyie has been Member of Parliament for Windsor since 2005.
2. He has campaigned for greater awareness of mental health issues since he was first elected and tabled approximately 20 Parliamentary Questions on mental health this Parliament alone.
3. In his first year as an MP Adam organised a class of 2005 book called The Forgotten in which he contributed a chapter on mental health.
4. To view more of Adam’s work in this area please click here.