Mental health strategy tackles stigma and 'everyday pressures'

A workshop in Port Talbot helps support people with mental health problems

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Health Minister Lesley Griffiths has promised to "tackle stigma" over mental health and give equal access from "cradle to grave" to vulnerable groups.

The commitments are being made in the Welsh government's first strategy for a decade to improve mental health.

The initiative also recognises the threat to people's mental health from financial and everyday pressures.

Patient charity Hafal said it hoped it would be a "positive step forward".

A key commitment in the 10-year plan is that people in Wales with mental health illnesses should get the right care and support at all stages of their lives.

The strategy - Together for Mental Health - says the issue should also be a top priority for a wide range of government departments, not just for the NHS and social services.

Mental health factfile

  • One in four adults will have mental health problems or illness at some stage of their lives.
  • One in 10 children between the ages of five and 16 has a mental health problem
  • One in six people over 80 years old will have memory problems, such as dementia
  • Source: Welsh government

The Welsh government says it will help address a wide range of needs such as housing, debt, financial and social issues which can have a big effect on people's mental health and well being.

Mrs Griffiths said: "One in four people will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. This can be triggered by bereavement, a trauma or even constantly worrying about money."

She said in the days of financial austerity, we need to have "more resilience" to deal with everyday pressures.

"Together for Mental Health is our commitment to do all we can to ensure we help people in Wales enjoy good mental health and wellbeing and those with mental ill-health are given all the support possible to recover and lead fulfilling lives."

The Welsh government says the plan will the first of its kind to try to address mental health needs "from cradle to grave".

Whereas previous plans have been aimed certain groups in society, such as young people or the elderly, the new strategy will aim to provide continuous and seamless care across all ages.

It also aims to "empower" people to have a bigger say about the type of care they receive and will focus on recovery not just managing symptoms.

The new strategy will also aim to tackle the prejudice and stigma which is often associated with mental health problems.

Time To Change Wales, a campaign led by mental health charities, recently conducted a survey into the stigma over mental health problems.

According to Gethin Jones from the campaign this can be a big barrier to recovery and is still a "huge concern".

Mental health stigma survey

  • One in five people believe that people with mental illness have little or no hope of being accepted as a member of their community.
  • One in five people believe that people with mental health problems are unpredictable.
  • Over a quarter of people said that being around someone with mental illness can make them feel uncomfortable.
  • Over a third of respondents said they would be unlikely to talk to their employer if they experienced a mental health problem.
  • One in seven believe that people with a mental illness can never fully recover.
  • Source: Time to Change Wales campaign/ORS telephone survey of 402 people in Wales

Mental health charities say that if implemented the strategy could make a big difference to peoples lives.

Bill Walden-Jones, chief executive of the mental health patients charity Hafal, said: "If the policy was put into practice people would see quite a big change.

"The one in 30 people who have serious mental ilness and need significant amounts of care, instead of those people remaining unproductive, often lonely with quite damaged lives, they would observe those people getting better.

"Getting education, going back to work and enjoying a social life and being full members of society, that's the objective."

But Mr Walden-Jones also warns if it is to succeed the plan needs to be backed up by resources.

"We're all realists - there's not going to be a whole lot more money," he said.

"We first need to use the money much more wisely. The other thing is a very, very simple thing - the government needs to stick to its undertaking to protect resources for mental health."

The strategy builds upon the Mental Health Measure introduced in 2010 - the first Welsh law to deal specifically with mental health issues.

The measure gave the right to anybody needing specialist mental health services to get a personal treatment plan.

The law also put a duty in GPs to signpost users towards help and support services nearer their homes.

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