Why the mental health strategy matters for all carers

a carer with her daughter

Mental health is not a specialist concern, it matters to all carers

A guest blogger! I’m Drew, The Trust’s lead on all things mental health related. I’m stepping in for Gordon this week because, well, we like to keep things fresh!

Gordon would like to have the excuse of being on an all-expenses paid trip to the Bahamas, but alas for him, he is doing his job as normal. I’m also here to give a flavour of some other work we do, which links up to Gordon’s sterling work lobbying our elected officials.

So, as always, there are a number of big Government initiatives and consultations going on. Alongside examples like the Big Care Debate, there are other key issues other colleagues and I lead on, often within specialist areas like young people, substance misuse, and of course mental health.

Specialist? Bunk! Bunk I say! Mental health is categorically not a specialist issue, as not only is mental health something we all have and must manage, but the majority of carers are likely to experience some impact on their mental wellbeing as a result of caring. Which is why I’ve focused my efforts on the Government’s new 10-year strategy for mental health in England, New Horizons.

We’ve submitted our response to the New Horizons consultation (read it here) which finished on the 15th October. This was based on what carers, our network of Carers’ Centres, and other partner organisations said they wanted to see. We’re promised the final strategy from the Government before Christmas.

So why is this relevant for all carers?

Firstly, the New Horizons consultation document sets out the vision for mental health service improvement in England, making it extremely relevant to carers of people with mental health problems. But the other, loftier goal is to improve ‘whole population mental health’; in short, more prevention as well as better treatment.

Essentially, the Government aims to raise awareness of mental and emotional wellbeing, why this is important, and help prevent people from becoming unwell in the first place. To do this, we’ll probably need health promotion campaigns on mental health that will stick in the public mind (like ‘5 fruit and veg a day’ has for diet), and lots more besides.

Given that carers as a group often want and require emotional support, as well as running higher risks of mental health problems, it’s vital to get New Horizons to respond to carers’ needs as a priority group.

We need New Horizons to support carers with their own mental health and emotional needs as much as improved services.

I share Gordon’s upbeat approach about the world. I like to pretend to be a cynic, but can’t keep it up; curse my natural optimism! But for New Horizons, my optimism about what the consultation document says is slightly dampened by my fears about what it’ll actually do.

Call me naïve, but I believe the Department of Health (who authored New Horizons) do want to improve things for mental health service users, carers and the wider public. It’s in no-one’s interests for things to get worse. I like New Horizons’ messages about carers, emphasising carers’ vital role in treatment and need for services to support them too.

But how is this going to happen? There’s no new money to support implementation of the Strategy. There are no set targets for changes to be made – understandable given increasing decentralisation of health and social care, but worrying for those who feel that benchmarks need to be set for goals to be met.

After reading the whole document (all 130 thrilling pages), I’m left with the sense that without explicit targets and monitoring for the Strategy’s goals (perhaps tied in the with new Care Quality Commission’s upcoming mental health strategy), we’ll be asking for the same things again in 2020. And with the spending cuts promised by mainstream political parties, this looks increasingly likely.

What can we do?

Keep the pressure up, and make it clear to our MPs and Government officials that carers and their mental health needs are not a specialist, or perish the thought, optional area of public expenditure.

Keep pushing how services could be improved, and offering examples of how this works well in some areas.

And finally, keep the argument fresh in our MPs’ minds, as we move towards election day, that without supporting carers and their own needs, it’s not just carers who suffer.

This is not a specialist concern – carers’ needs are especially important.

Take care,



November 3, 2009 - Posted by | Mental Health | , , , , ,

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