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Mental health "must be at the heart of public health"

Psychiatrists are today calling on the government to put mental health at the heart of their new public health strategy, which is due to be unveiled later this year.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) has published a compelling bank of evidence showing why public health strategies cannot afford to ignore mental health. The position statement, No health without public mental health: the case for action, shows that:

  • People with a mental disorder smoke almost half of all tobacco consumed in the UK and account for almost half of all smoking-related deaths.
  • Depression doubles the risk of developing coronary heart disease.
  • People with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder die an average 20 years earlier than the general population, largely owing to physical health problems.
  • People with two or more long-term physical illnesses have a seven times greater risk of depression.
  • Children from the poorest households have a three-fold greater risk of mental ill health than children from the richest households.

RCPsych President Professor, Dinesh Bhugra, said: "Historically, government public health strategies have concentrated on physical health and overlooked the importance of both mental illness and mental wellbeing. But there is no health without mental health.

"There is vast evidence to show that mental illness is associated with a greater risk of physical illness - and physical illness, in turn, increases the risk of mental illness. It's clear that strategies to improve the health of the nation will only be effective if they address mental health and wellbeing as well."

In the position statement, the RCPsych calls on the coalition government to make a series of important policy changes, including:

  • Tackling substance addiction through a minimum alcohol pricing policy and an evidence-based addictions policy.
  • Prioritising mental health within smoking cessation programmes.
  • Targeting public mental health interventions for people at higher risk, for example children in care and those who are unemployed or homeless.
  • Promoting the importance of mental health and wellbeing in older age.

Professor Bhugra said: "Earlier this month, a study revealed that mental illness costs the economy £105 billion a year in England alone, and is the single largest source of burden of disease. Including mental health at the heart of the public health agenda will improve people's lifestyles and reduce health-risk behaviours, thereby both preventing physical illness and reducing the burden of mental illness on society."

He continued: "Our new position statement makes clear recommendations for political action and policy change. I hope that the evidence we present today can persuade government at all levels, as well as wider society, of the need for action and the benefits it will bring."

Responding the launch of this new report, Care Service Minister, Paul Burstow MP, said "The government is clear that there is no health without mental health. That is why we will publish both a public health white paper and mental health strategy that will break new ground.

"If the right action is taken early in people's lives, it's possible to make a big difference. The right support at the right time can help people realise their potential, cope with adversity and hold down a job.  This is good for the individual and good for society too."

Royal College of Psychiatrists

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"This comes too late for my dear brother in law, who at the age of 54 was found dead last week. He leaves a 9 year old boy and my poor sister has to face the reality of widowhood. At the end of the day, it was physical illness that killed him, but he was clinically depressed and unable to cope with physical illness as well. Services were not as accessible as they should have been. Also, the 2 areas do not communicate. As soon as physical illness or substance abuse is involved, it seems that the mental health services are not interested!" - Penny Hughes, London

"Unfortunately, we live in a backward society, which still regards the mind as a mystical entity, existing separately from the body. Consequently, psychiatry and mental health services are funded and administered quite separately from 'mainstream' healthcare provision. Mental health professionals find it very difficult to access a patient's medical notes and vice-versa, making it very difficult to provide truly holistic care, in line with every policy and code of professional conduct to which we are all subject. Of course mental health is a specialty but then so is obstetrics or orthopaedics. It's time we, as a society, put aside superstition and started treating people as whole entities by joining up all branches of health care provision" - Adam Ridealgh, Essex

"I take great exception to the comments made by Charles Linskaill. I work in mental health, in particular, with older adults and we are working with fewer and fewer resources but ever increasing numbers of patients to look after. I know I can only speak for my own area but we provide an excellent service and no one we look after is 'neglected'. There may be gaps in what services we can provide but we would never 'neglect' anyone; rather we work 'above and beyond' to ensure our patients get a very high level of service. I totally agree urgent attention is required but with a view to funding and resources which are required for us to be able to provide the service needed by individual mental health patients" - Alison Daly, Glasgow

"I agree with the concept of the report. If there is not a balance between mental and physical health we do not function efficiently. There is a huge connection between lack of care/services and work ethic in this country. If people with mental health issues had proper support many more people would be in work and contributing to society with taxes, etc. Many people with the above issues have no self-worth and this should be addressed by offering the right amount of medical input various therapies" - Angela Holroyd, Sussex

"The situation of mental health problems in our society requires urgent attention, I would say from experience, nine of of 10 patients are totally neglected, even by those who paid to work in our mental health departments. It is a very serious and worrying situation that needs urgent address" - Charles Linskaill, Edinburgh