Recognising that, in turning everyone’s lives upside down, the pandemic has taken a toll on mental health, the UK Government published this week its Mental Health Recovery Action Plan.
It’s worth reading the details of the plan and looking at whether you need to take them into consideration in your approach to supporting employee mental health and wellbeing.
According to the plan, people with mental health difficulties, ranging from severe mental illnesses such as bipolar and schizophrenia, to those with more common mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, will benefit from expanded mental health services backed by £500 million.
The plan aims to respond to the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of the public, specifically targeting groups which have been most impacted including those with severe mental illness, young people, and frontline staff.
Under the plan NHS talking therapies (IAPT services) which offer confidential treatment of conditions such as anxiety, depression and PTSD will expand, supporting 1.6 million people to access services in 2021/22, backed by an additional £38 million.
Additional therapists will also be trained to support those with more complex mental health needs as a result of the pandemic.
According to the official government release, this is part of the wider government agenda to build back better from the pandemic and ensure everyone is able to access the support they need.
The Recovery Action Plan is published alongside the National Suicide Prevention Strategy Progress Report and associated cross-government workplan. This sets out data and trends on suicide and self-harm, progress against existing commitments, and crucially, the steps government has and will be taking to reduce suicide and self-harm as far as possible.
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock said:
“As part of our response to this global pandemic we not only want to tackle the public health threat of coronavirus but ensure our clinicians have the resources to deal with the impact on people’s mental health”.
One-off initiatives will receive funding to tackle the impact of COVID-19 on mental health and learning disability and autism services and to support groups who have disproportionately been affected by the pandemic.
Recognising the health inequalities highlighted by the pandemic, funding will also be used to help level up mental health and wellbeing across the country in the most deprived local authority areas in England, supporting prevention activities like debt advice, carers support, outreach to people facing loneliness and isolation, youth projects and community groups.
Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Nadine Dorries said
“I am acutely aware of the impact the pandemic has had on the mental health and wellbeing of many. The public has shown great resilience during these challenging times, but some groups including young people and those with severe mental illness have been impacted more than others”.
“For anyone who is feeling they need support, I urge you to reach out. Our mental health services are here for you”.
One-off, new initiatives to support mental health recovery from the pandemic include:
- £15 million to help level up mental health and wellbeing across the country through funding initiatives to promote positive mental health in the most deprived local authority areas in England – eligible local authorities will receive around £500,000 each to fund prevention activities like debt advice, carers support, outreach to people facing loneliness and isolation, youth projects and community groups for those most affected by Covid-19 including minority ethnic communities
- £13 million to ensure young adults aged 18 to 25, including university students, are supported with tailored mental health services, helping bridge the gap between children’s and adult services – this funding will ensure services are better able to meet the needs of this group as a result of the pandemic, reducing the likelihood of needing hospital treatment in the future
- £14 million to support the physical health of people living with severe mental illness, through schemes encouraging them to come forward for physical health checks to help spot the signs of conditions like diabetes and heart disease, and get their Covid-19 vaccine
- £17 million to support recovery of the dementia diagnosis rate and tackle the backlog of appointments as a result of the pandemic
- £2.5 million to pilot new approaches to support children who have experienced complex trauma.
- £2.5 million to boost a pilot supporting offenders with significant mental health needs, to divert them away from custodial sentences, and help them to access the support they need through Mental Health Treatment Requirements
- £31 million to support learning disability and autism services, to address the diagnostic backlog as a result of the pandemic, and support intervention to prevent children and young people with learning disability, autism or both escalating into crisis
- £3 million to begin preparations for implementing the Mental Health Act Reform, increasing capacity in the workforce and laying the groundwork for broader reforms including testing ways to improve the quality of care and provide culturally appropriate advocacy
- £5 million to support suicide prevention through voluntary and community sector organisations
Leading by example
At Make A Difference Media we advocate for mental health and wellbeing to be embedded as a strategic priority across organisations. So, it’s good to see that The Recovery Action Plan highlights initiatives to place mental health at the centre of government policy.
This includes through the development and testing of a ‘Mental Health Impact Assessment’ for all new policies, and continuation of the Ministerial group examining the impacts of the pandemic on mental health and wellbeing.
In addition, all government departments are committing to promote Public Health England’s Psychological First Aid training to their workers and volunteers to develop their skills and confidence in providing support to those affected by COVID-19. These free online training modules help people develop their skills and confidence in providing key psychological support on issues such as job worries, bereavement or isolation.
Support for frontline workers also remains a key priority, and an additional £10 million will be invested to support the mental health of the workforce in the wake of the pandemic. This is on top of support put in place by NHS England, including a dedicated confidential staff support line operated by the Samaritans, and a £15 million investment to strengthen mental health support for NHS staff during the second wave.
What people are saying about the plan
Responding to the mental health recovery plan, Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of UK mental health charity Mind said:
“We are pleased that the UK Government has now announced greater detail about where the £500m earmarked for mental health services will be spent. It’s no understatement to say we are facing a ‘mental health pandemic’ as a nation. This is evidenced by Mind’s survey data of over 16,000 people during lockdown, increased demand for Mind’s information via our website and Infoline, other data indicating a doubling of depression, significant increases in mental health problems among young people and more people admitted to hospital in crisis. This money can’t come soon enough and should be seen as a down payment for additional investment, which will inevitably be needed to meet increased demand for mental health support”.
“As we continue to deal with the effects of the pandemic and the economic recession, the true scale of the nation’s mental health is only beginning to emerge. It could be many months or even years before we fully recognise the pandemic’s toll on our collective wellbeing. That’s why we welcome the UK Government’s recovery plan, which will need to see departments working more closely than ever to deliver on its promises given the multiple social challenges we face. After all, we know factors like loneliness, unemployment, debt, education, and poor housing are taking a huge toll on people’s mental health”.
This injection of cash by the government is welcome. However, it does not remove employers’ responsibility. The workplace should be a force for good in mental wellbeing. Business has to play its part and be confident about playing its part. There is much that employers can do to take proactive, preventative, inclusive approaches to supporting employee mental health and wellbeing. Many employers are stepping up to this challenge but there is still more to be done.
You can find full details about the Mental Health Action Plan here.
About the author:
Claire Farrow is the Global Director of Content and Programming for the Mad World and Make a Difference Summits. She also drives the content for Make A Difference News. Claire is on a mission to help every employer – large, medium and small – get the insight, inspiration and contacts they need to make real impact on workplace culture, mental health and wellbeing in their organisation. She has been freelance for more than 15 years. During that time, she has had the honour of working with many leading publishers, including the New York Times