Charities and mental health bodies have welcomed the launch of the government’s New Horizons strategy, but want more guidance on translating the aims into action.
The government has put renewed focus on finding work for people with mental health issues by publishing two employment strategies simultaneously, Working Our Way to Better Mental Health and Work and Recovery & Inclusion.
Here, Community Care looks at some of the reaction to New Horizons.
Sainsbury Centre joint chief executive Dr Bob Grove supported the strategy’s emphasis on early intervention but warned that the government could not let up in its push for change.
“The National Service Framework for Mental Health brought about momentous changes in the quality of mental health care available in communities across England,” he said. “The challenge now is to keep up the pace of reform and to enable people with mental health problems a fair chance in life and the opportunity to make better lives for themselves.
“We especially welcome the emphasis on promoting good mental health and on intervening early when people first show the signs of mental distress. Acting early to reduce the risk of conduct and emotional problems among children should be the norm across the country.”
The Royal College of Psychiatrists is to embed the New Horizons agenda into its training.
“We are particularly pleased to see the strategy identifying a skilled workforce as the main resource for delivering high quality care,” said RCP president Prof Dinesh Bhugra.
“The college is committed to playing its part in the effective delivery of the New Horizons agenda, and we will be considering the broader implications of New Horizons for the training of psychiatrists and the delivery of clinical care. The challenge now is to translate this broad agenda into concrete actions that will, in a consistent way, make a real difference to the lives of people with mental health problems.”
Dr Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said the strategy was an important first step.
“Without good mental health our relationships, jobs and physical health all suffer,” he said. “We need to get to grips with the financial and social burden that poor mental health places on the NHS and society as a whole, and the way to do this is by promoting the mental health of everyone.”
Rethink chief executive Paul Jenkins said the strategy “could revolutionise the quality of life and care” for people with mental illness and urged the sector to support the plans.
“People with a mental illness want to work and, with the right support and guidance, can enjoy rewarding careers,” he said. “Now the government needs to galvanise the voluntary sector behind a consolidated advertising campaign to let people with mental health problems know that Access to Work may support them.”
“We believe the government needs to take urgent action to tackle common mental health problems and prevent the creation of an ‘underclass’ of people,” said chief executive Lord Adebowale.
“There are two tiers of unemployed people: those who are fairly well skilled and remain near the job market; and those who have never been close to work and will be marginalised even further because of the recession. It is often the poorest people in society who are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression and this may prevent them from gaining the confidence and skills needed to gain employment.”
Lack of focus on younger people was the main concern of Sarah Brennan, YoungMinds’ chief executive.
“The document is too vague, and for its proposal to be successful there will need to be a complete culture change which will take years,” she said.
“Three young people in every classroom have a serious mental health problem such as depression. Without focused activity and support now, another generation of young people will be lost. We need to ensure policy documents translate into action on the ground. As we know from work with young people – and as outlined in their recent manifesto for better mental health – many thousands are still not getting the help they need.”
Homelessness charity St Mungo’s praised the way the strategy specifically addressed mental illness related to homlessness. But chief executive Charles Fraser warned of an over-emphasis on local bodies.
“It’s positive to see the link made between mental wellbeing and employment, with the launch of the new network of mental health co-ordinators in every Jobcentre Plus district,” he said.
“Long-term unemployment is a real issue for homeless people – 96% of our 1,400 residents are not working. The journey back into work can be a lot longer for homeless men and women and requires specialist support.
“However, the strategy says that a shift towards co-ordinated treatment is ‘best achieved through local care networks’. From our report, Down and Out, the evidence is that leaving it solely to local networks rarely works.
“There is systematic failure at a local level to cope well with people with more complex needs. The cost of failure is high – of 300 recent rough sleepers now living in St Mungo’s hostels, 69% have a mental health need while 61% have both a mental health need and a substance use issue.
“Report contributors from health, housing and social care called for strong leadership. We urge the Department of Health to take top-level responsibility for the most vulnerable. A lead minister for health and homelessness could ensure, for example, national standards for mental health and homelessness which would help ensure that the government’s goal of reducing rough sleeping to zero by 2012 will succeed.”