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CSJ - The Conservative Manifesto should kick-start a revolution on mental health.

Theresa May should use the Conservative Manifesto to set out a strong mandate for widespread reform of how we tackle mental health conditions.

Mental health conditions are, rightly, no longer considered a niche issue, whispered about in corridors and surrounded by stigma. A quarter of the population suffer from them each year, with the poorest fifth being twice as likely to suffer. This is a mainstream issue, which should take centre stage in the Manifesto.

Theresa May is clearly committed to this agenda. Throughout her political career she has regularly championed reform. Just last week she announced reforms including that her Government would invest £1 billion in 10,000 NHS mental health staff, scrap the Mental Health Act and provide greater protection for those with depression from being fired.

The Prime Minister should include these reforms in the Conservative Manifesto. Yet, there is an opportunity to go much further, and include a suite of connected, social reforms on issues that are closely linked to mental health. By using her Manifesto to set out this broad, all-encompassing vision she would provide a strong mandate and rallying point for Government to focus around, should the Conservative’s win on June 8th. There are four crucial social policy areas to include.

Firstly, there should be a commitment to support people with mental health conditions into work. Work is a cure for poor mental health, while unemployment leaves people up to 10-times more likely to develop anxiety and depression. Yet there are over a million people on out of work benefits because of mental ill health, and the majority receive no support, despite many wanting to work.

And the problem is growing, with around 300,000 people falling out of work every year due to health conditions, of which mental ill health is a considerable proportion. The Manifesto can change this. The Government operates a free national occupational health service, called Fit for Work, which is barely used by employers. To encourage uptake, the Manifesto could commit to a duty for employers without private occupational health services to have a non-binding conversation with Fit for Work when employees are absent for three weeks. Almost nine in ten (87%) employers are on board with this idea.

Secondly, the Manifesto should tackle severe personal debt, which is proven to cause and slow the recovery from a wide range of mental health conditions, from depression to schizophrenia. Being in unmanageable debt does for the mind what eating a pound of butter a day does for the heart.

The Manifesto should commit to a Statutory Breathing Space to freeze people’s debts long enough to allow them to tackle the root causes of their debt problem, such as mental ill health.

Thirdly, the Manifesto should be resolute in the fight against drugs, and ambitious to help people recover from addiction. Addiction causes mental ill health: regular cannabis use doubles the risk of developing a psychotic episode and heroin use significantly increases the chances of conditions from depression to suicide.

Yet local authorities are cutting back on funding treatment, which is undermining rehabilitation: less than 7% of people with opiate addictions successfully completed their treatment last year, a fifth lower than five years ago. These centres could be funded by adding just a penny on a unit of alcohol in off-license sales.

Finally, the Manifesto should build on the Prime Minister’s commitments to tackle the growing crisis in child mental health, as half of all mental health conditions start before the age of 14. The Manifesto could set out a mandate for root-and-branch reform of child mental health services, including ending the inhumane practice of sending seven in ten children far from home to access mental health services.

This is especially important as it takes children away from their families, which should be the first port of call for promoting good mental health. Government research has shown that the quality of parent’s relationships is a key risk factor that affects children’s mental health. Effective parenting helps prevent child mental health conditions, and should be included in the Government’s plans.

Theresa May’s personal passion and resolve to act on tackling mental health conditions will be hugely welcomed by those who suffer from them. She should use her Manifesto to set out a wide-reaching, ambitious programme of reform to revolutionise our approach to mental health. By doing so, she will create a rallying point and a strong mandate that will help see these crucial, but potentially difficult, reforms through and transform the lives of so many across the country.

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