Theresa May vows to transform mental health support as part of ‘shared society’ plan

Theresa May has set out her vision for a “shared society” designed to counter attempts by extremists on right and left to exploit divisions and discontent within modern Britain.

In a speech in central London detailing plans to provide greater support for those suffering mental health problems, the Prime Minister said her Government would put “fairness and solidarity” at the heart of its agenda.

She said she was determined to tackle the injustices suffered not only by the most disadvantaged in society, but also the “everyday injustices” of job insecurity, stagnating wages and poor public services felt by those who are “just about managing” – known in Whitehall as “the Jams”.

She warned that extremists on both left and right were seeking to capitalise on the resentment felt by ordinary people who find that in the modern, globalised economy “there is one rule for the rich and powerful and another for everyone else”.

She said a “cult of individualism” threatened to undermined the bonds of family, community and citizenship which hold the UK together.

But she insisted her Government would provide a “mainstream centre-ground” solution to the problems besetting ordinary working-class families.

“The central challenge of our times is to overcome divisions and bring our country together, by ensuring that everyone has the chance to share in the wealth and opportunity on offer in Britain today,” said the Prime Minister.

PM will vow to use the state as a “force for good” to transform the way mental health problems are addressed in the community.

Mrs May said mental illness can destroy lives but for too long has been a “hidden injustice”.

She announced

  • Secondary schools will be offered mental health first aid training;
  • New trials to strengthen links between schools and local NHS mental health staff;
  • A major review of children and adolescent mental health services, led by the Care Quality Commission.

The Prime Minister set out the plans as part of her vision of a “shared society”, with an increased role for the state in addressing issues of social injustice.

The measures also include a green paper on support for children and young people and a further £15 million to provide alternatives to hospital visits, such as crisis cafes and community clinics.

There will also be an expansion of digital services and a review of the debt form system, which can see some cash-strapped people charged up to £300 by a GP to provide proof to creditors they have a mental illness.

Mrs May said: “For too long mental illness has been something of a hidden injustice in our country, shrouded in a completely unacceptable stigma and dangerously disregarded as a secondary issue to physical health.

“Yet left unaddressed, it destroys lives, it separates people from each other and deepens the divisions within our society.

“Changing this goes right to the heart of our humanity; to the heart of the kind of country we are, the values we share, the attitudes we hold and our determination to come together and support each other.”

The economic and social cost of mental illness is around £105 billion and one in four people has a common mental disorder at any time, according to the Government.

The focus on schools is driven by figures showing over half of mental health problems start by the age of 14 and 75% by 18.

Under the plans, mental health training for teachers and staff will be rolled out to a third of secondary schools in England next year, with the remaining two-thirds of secondary schools offered the support in the following two years.

Mental health campaigner Lord Stevenson of Coddenham and the charity Mind’s chief executive Paul Farmer will also lead a review of workplace practices.

Liberal Democrat former health minister Norman Lamb said Mrs May was reannouncing policies agreed under the coalition government

“This is a puny response to a burning injustice and an attempt to cover up for this Government’s failure to deliver on promised investment for children’s mental health,” he said.

“Measures to improve mental health care in schools were already agreed during coalition, and the current Government has failed to ensure the investment needed to implement them has got through.

“Much of the additional £1.4 billion of funding secured for child mental health care is being diverted to prop up other services. This amounts to theft of money intended to improve the lives of vulnerable young people.”

Shadow mental health minister Barbara Keeley said the Government has failed on mental health.

“The truth is that funding for mental health fell by over 8% over the last parliament, there are now 6,600 fewer mental health nurses compared to 2010 and thousands of patients in crisis have to travel out of area for a psychiatric bed. Much of the extra funding meant for children’s mental health services has actually been used for other NHS services.”

Mind chief executive Mr Farmer said: “Mental health should be at the heart of government, and at the heart of society and communities – it’s been on the periphery for far too long.”

Simon Walker, director general at the Institute of Directors, welcomed the review and said: “Mental health problems touch us all, and employers have a real role to play ensuring the health, physical and mental, of their workforce.”

Sir Ian Cheshire, the chairman of mental health campaign Heads Together, said: “The Prime Minister’s announcements today are extremely important and very welcome, as they show both a willingness to tackle the broad challenge of mental health support and a practical grasp of how to start making a real difference.”

Mental health charity Sane’s chief executive Marjorie Wallace welcomed the Prime Minister’s recognition that the issue was a priority but added: “Mrs May’s emphasis on stigma, without commitment to ring-fenced money, will not bring the hoped for revolution in mental health care.

“As she speaks, psychiatric beds are being closed, the patients who contact Sane are turned away from A&E, have no place to go in crisis or are shunted hundreds of miles across the country to obtain treatment.”