The mental health of our population represents a major challenge deserving a high priority and sustained focus.
In her biennial report our director of Public Health, Dr Linda de Caestecker, outlines that tackling mental health issues will be cost-effective in the long run and has enormous potential for improving the overall health of our population.
The report argues that mental health issues should be treated as being equally important to physical health issues. By caring for residents’ minds as well as their bodies we can help them live longer and enjoy a better quality of life.
One of the biggest determinants on mental health is the effects of poverty. Tackling the contributory factors such as unemployment and housing requires a multi-agency response.
Dr de Caestecker said: “There is growing evidence on how best to improve public mental health. As a health board, we have an impressive history of innovation and implementation of evidence based interventions to achieve this.
“Promoting mental health not only helps people lead longer and healthier lives, but is also very cost effective.
“However, one of the biggest challenges we face is improving the health of people suffering the effects of disadvantage due to poverty and the resultant social exclusion and discrimination.
“Socio-economic inequality has a unique impact on our population. Working with our partners we’re determined to tackle issues such as poverty, unemployment, poor employment prospects and housing in order to improve the health of people across the board area.
“International evidence clearly shows that collective action to address the underlying risk factors for poor mental health, as well as stigma and discrimination, is a vital part of the public health effort.
“Stigma and discrimination have been widely recognised as having powerful negative effects on people with mental health problems, often adding additional burdens to people’s life experiences.
“The effects of stigma can often be as profound as that of the illness itself. It may impair participation in all aspects of life, may stop someone from seeking help at an early stage and damage employment prospects.”
The effect of mental health issues on new mothers is also looked at in the report. Mental health issues in the perinatal period – the time covering pregnancy and immediately after - costs the UK around £8.1 billion annually. Research also shows postnatal depression affects one in six new mothers and one in 10 new fathers.
Young people are also considered with a schools survey showing LGB pupils experience poorer mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, higher rates of substance abuse and bullying than their heterosexual counterparts. They have almost three times the rate for mental and emotional health problems and double the prevalence of bullying.
No report on mental health would be complete without consideration of dementia given our ageing population and the accompanying demand on services. There is growing evidence on the importance of a healthy diet, physical and intellectual activity, and social connectedness which all link to good mental health.
Factors affecting a person in their earlier years can influence the development of the dementia disease process. The factors which have shown a definite association with dementia are low education achievement in early life, midlife hypertension, midlife and later life diabetes and smoking.
Dr de Caestecker concluded: “Just as we have effective treatments for physical illnesses, there are therapies, medications and lifestyle interventions that can ease mental suffering, especially if help is provided at the earliest signs of a problem.
“Good mental health is more than the absence of diagnosable mental health problems. It is an asset that helps us thrive, be physically healthier and enables us to fulfil key functions and activities. It helps us to form and maintain relationships, learn, work and cope with change or difficult circumstances.”