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Championing mental health

Source: Public Sector Executive Sept/Oct 2013

Cllr Ed Davie, LGIU Scrutineer 2013, chair of Lambeth Council’s health and adult social care scrutiny committee, and public affairs manager at the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) for mental health, discusses the need for local authorities to be proactive on mental health.

Public health jargon calls them ‘pre-determinants’ but common sense also tells us that most people’s health is helped by having a decent home, a job and self-determination in a supportive community. 

By providing and influencing housing, employment, community participation, leisure and learning facilities, councils have always had a strong part to play in supporting many of those ‘pre-determinants’. Now officially back in charge of public health for the first time in 40 years, local authorities should use this new opportunity to improve the mental health of their residents. 

Apart from the moral case for doing so there is an overwhelming financial imperative, with the Centre for Mental Health estimating that poor mental health costs the UK £105bn a year – that’s more than £500m per council. 

With their new and existing responsibilities, deep community connections and pressing need to reduce demand, councils are uniquely placed to provide the leadership so badly needed in improving mental health. Now the Centre for Mental Health is leading efforts to support and encourage councils in this work by asking them to sign up to The Mental Health Challenge. 

The actions should help local authorities promote mental health across all of their business and in doing so support residents and reduce demand. 

As a first step, councils are being asked to appoint member and officer ‘champions’ for mental health and in return those champions will be offered support and information. I have volunteered as Lambeth’s member champion and am finding that it is bolstering the health and social care work I am already engaged in. My first action has been to organise a commission on improving the mental health of black residents, who are much more likely to die in custody, be subject to community treatment orders, Mental Health Act sections and more serious medication. 

I have no doubt that the people most affected by these issues will have the most effective answers, and as councils we have to ensure we enable our residents to get the support and services they need to look after themselves and each other better. 

In my day job with mental health service-user-led charity the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) I see all the time that when people with mental health experience are given the opportunity and support to look after themselves, each other and the services they use, they get better, outcomes improve and public money is saved. 

So far NSUN has worked on pilots that do this with Lambeth, Suffolk, Newcastle, Leicester and Hackney councils, introducing people with mental health experience to their new local service providers, commissioners and scrutinisers. Like anyone else what people with mental health conditions want is the support they need to fulfill their aspirations. 

If this is done properly, the need for expensive in-patient care, medication and social work packages reduces and people become more self-reliant.

Now with public health responsibilities I hope council colleagues everywhere will use this as an opportunity take up the Mental Health Challenge and support their residents to fulfill their potential.

Local authority Mental Health Challenge actions 

• Identify an elected member as mental health champion across the council.

• Identify a lead officer for mental health to link in with colleagues across the council.

• Follow the implementation framework for the mental health strategy where it is relevant to the council’s work and local needs.

• Work to reduce inequalities in mental health in our community.

• Work with the NHS to integrate health and social care support.

• Promote well-being and initiate and support action on public mental health, for example through joint health and well-being strategies.

• Tackle discrimination on the grounds of mental health in the community.

• Encourage positive mental health in schools, colleges and workplaces.

• Proactively engage and listen to people of all ages and backgrounds about what they need for better mental health.

• Sign up to the Time to Change pledge.


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