Mental health

Here’s what we need to do for better mental health

The Secretary of State for Health lays out his mental health action plan

Let’s startwith some good news. Across the country, people are ditching stereotypes, loosening stiff upper lips, and talking more openly about mental health than ever before.

Men have been at the heart of this change. Whether in politics (Alastair Campbell), sport (Nigel Owens), business (Dennis Stevenson) or even royalty (Prince Harry), it’s becoming a sign of strength, even masculinity, to confront mental distress and talk, with courage and conviction, about one’s experiences.

This issue of The Jackal embodies this shift: a decade ago, we simply wouldn’t have had this level of exposure centred on mental health, nor such extraordinarily frank and personal testimonies.

“Whether in politics, sport or business, it’s becoming a sign of strength to confront mental distress”

But now we’ve learnt to be more open about mental ill-health, what next? What can we do to build resilience and stop the incredible human loss of potential caused by mental illness?

Part of the answer is of course the NHS. On the steps of Downing Street, the Prime Minister personally championed improving poor mental health provision as one of the ‘burning injustices’ she wanted to tackle.

Many changes are already underway. Five years ago, we became the first country in the world to legislate for so-called ‘parity of esteem’ between mental and physical health services across the NHS. Last year, 120,000 more people received specialist treatment compared to three years ago. The introduction of new waiting times for mental health – another world first – are now helping more people get help in a timely fashion.

But we need to do much more. And many of the injustices of mental health we still see disproportionately affect men.

One of them is detention. Currently, a young man experiencing a mental health crisis can still end up being detained in police custody rather than getting the NHS treatment he needs – and that is not acceptable.

Likewise black men are still over-represented in our psychiatric hospitals. We need to understand why and be better at supporting those from minority ethnic backgrounds more effectively. We are reviewing the way the Mental Health Act works to tackle this.

“If we keep at it, we’ll create something truly remarkable: a more rounded understanding of masculinity”

But the biggest male issue of all remains suicide. Men account for three-quarters of all cases of people taking their lives, and it remains the biggest cause of death for men under 50. While it’s heartening to see overall suicides falling, we need to go further to raise awareness, smash the taboos, and improve preventative support.

But the NHS and Government can’t do this alone. Ultimately, good mental health starts with strong communities – whether at home or work. Companies have a vital role to play.

We need the media and advertising industry to operate with restraint and sensitivity, particularly in how they portray ‘masculinity’.

We need social media providers to step up to the plate and reduce the impact of harmful content on vulnerable young minds. The vast influence and commercial value of their platforms mean that we can and should expect more from them in terms of safeguarding young people.

But just as many companies can do more, so too can all of us as individuals. And that means not just talking but acting. Campaigns like Time to Change, financially supported by the Government, are designed to trigger those small acts that can make a big difference.

And if we keep at it, we will create something truly remarkable: a warmer and more rounded understanding of masculinity; a gentler and more open society; and fewer tragic stories of potential lost to mental illness. And that would truly be worth talking about.

Jeremy Hunt is MP for South West Surrey and Secretary of State for Health