Early help 'key to tackling mental health problems'
- 2 February 2011
- From the section Health
More focus will be placed on dealing with mental health problems at an early stage under government plans.
The new mental health strategy for England promises an extra £400m for therapies, such as counselling, to increase access to them by 60% by 2015.
Ministers said this would help address mental health issues with the same intensity as physical health.
But campaigners warned the wider cuts being made across the public sector risked undermining the drive.
The strategy covers services for all age groups, but there is a particular focus on children - 10% of whom develop a mental health problem at some point.
It is widely acknowledged that there have been significant improvements in adult services over the past decade, particularly in relation to the support available in the community.
In contrast, the network of child and adolescent mental health services - funded jointly by the NHS and local government - have been criticised for having long waiting lists and patchy provision of services.
The problems have led to children being treated by adult services in some places. The transition from child to adult care during the teenage years is also considered inadequate.
The main aim of the strategy is to increase access to psychological therapies from the 2m using it currently to 3.2m by 2015.
Ensuring there is early intervention in place is seen as essential to stopping long-term mental health problems developing as research suggests about half of adults with lifetime mental health problems first experienced difficulties in childhood.
The strategy has also called for a cross-government and society approach to mental health, pointing out mental health is not just a matter for the NHS.
The push will be overseen by the cabinet's public health committee - a cross-government group - to help ensure this happens.
Lucie Russell, of the charity Young Minds, said it was refreshing to see children's services being included in the strategy.
But she warned the cuts which were being seen "left, right and centre" in sure start centres, school-based counselling support and voluntary sector projects threatened to undermine the plans.
"Turning the strategy from rhetoric to reality will be challenging in the context of deep cuts to children's services which will threaten its success."
Andy Bell, co-chairman of the Future Vision Coalition, an umbrella group of mental health charities, agreed the economic situation was worrying.
He added: "The development of child services has lagged behind adults for years so it is important improvements are made."
And shadow care minister Emily Thornberry said she was concerned there was not a "clearly worked out path" to achieve what was being set out.
But Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said he hoped the plans would help address mental health issues with the "same urgency" that physical health has seen in recent years.
"For too long we have treated mental health as something almost to be ashamed of while physical health problems are treated very differently. We need to treat them in the same way."
He added: "Crucially it means we can get these talking therapies to children before their problems become problems of a lifetime."
Professor Dinesh Bhugra, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: "There is still a long way to go for mental health patients to receive a satisfactory standard of care and treatment throughout England, and the challenge set out in this strategy needs to be taken up."