Nicky Morgan: The 2017 General Election campaign will be remembered for many things. But one area which won’t be mentioned enough, are the announcements and manifesto commitments the Conservatives made about mental health.
The 2017 General Election campaign will be remembered for many things. But one area which won’t be mentioned enough, are the announcements and manifesto commitments the Conservatives made about mental health. So, I am delighted to see Conservatives for Mental Health being launched, and hope it gains widespread support across the Party. When Charles Walker MP and I led the first ever general debate on mental health in the main chamber of the House of Commons in 2012 we had no idea that it would lead to some of our colleagues revealing their own battles with mental ill-health nor help to tackle the stigma felt by so many.
As Education Secretary I was able to make it clear to the Department for Education that mental health was something we had to support schools in dealing with. I was determined schools should talk to pupils about their wellbeing, we should pilot ways of schools and clinical commissioning groups working together and we should prioritise counselling. In my new book on character education I explore the positive role that developing everyone’s character can have on building strong mental resilience. I cite evidence (Eames, Shippen and Sharp, June 2016) which shows that “resilience, or the capacity to bounce back in the face of adversity, is another concept that is considered to have important implications in the promotion of wellbeing.”
And further evidence shows that if we help young people to develop character traits such as coping with high expectations, having a meaning for life, setting goals, developing their personal agency and interpersonal problem-solving skills, all things that character education helps to develop, this helps young people to be more resilient.
Of course character education is not a preventative panacea for serious mental ill-health. I know there are times when there is no replacement for drugs and/or therapy. But with a recent survey showing that one in four 14 year old girls saying they are depressed, this building of resilience is needed more than ever and a whole-school focus on wellbeing is essential.
The Prime Minister is clearly very personally committed to tackling remaining mental health challenges and stigma. Her work as Home Secretary in ending detention in police cells for those suffering from a mental health crisis and encouraging police and mental health nurses to work together were significant steps.
The pledges we made in June to unpick the now rather outdated law surrounding detention of those who are suffering from poor mental health as well as a focus on prevention by investing in mental health care for young people show a real determination to be more than reactive. The Prime Minister has said that we will replace the outdated 1983 Mental Health Act with a Mental Health Treatment Bill, roll out mental health support to every school in the country, and ensure that mental health is taken far more seriously in the workplace. Over the summer Jeremy Hunt set out plans to deliver 21,000 new posts in mental health support by 2021.
As a trustee and founder of a small mental health support group in my constituency I particularly welcomed the guarantee of funding for helplines, places of safety and crisis cafes. This means that funding for helplines, such as the Samaritans will be guaranteed and the £15 million of funding announced by the Prime Minister for community places of safety and crisis cafes will be maintained. So far the Conservatives in Government have invested more in mental health than ever by spending an estimated £11.7 billion a year on mental health. And we have introduced the first ever waiting times for mental health treatment. The first ever access and waiting standards have been introduced for both talking therapies and early intervention in psychosis. However, much more remains to be done.
The commitments set out above are important because they are not only the right thing to do but they can also command broad, cross-party support. Given current political events that is more important than ever and we must not lose sight of delivering on them amidst all the other political noise.