Mental health support – what are we doing about it?

Late last year, we announced that we would be launching a multi-year project on mental health. Today, we have published an overview of this project and an outline of our first research phase.
Polaroid photos of people

Local communities across England have told us that they want to see mental health prioritised. Our new programme of work is a direct response to that.

Since January 2016, over 34,000 people have shared their views and experiences of using mental health services with us.

Collectively, these views cover every element of mental health support, from access to talking therapies to what it’s like to live in a secure mental health service.

Yet, unlike other areas of health and social care, the feedback we receive about mental health support continues to be mostly negative.

Encouragingly, the work of Healthwatch has shown that gathering the views of people in need of better mental health support, from teenagers in Bristol to army veterans in Norfolk, can lead to positive change.   

We want to understand more about different people’s experiences of mental health care at different stages in their lives. Through developing this robust evidence base, we want to inform mental health policy and practice to make the improvements in support that people would like to see.

Top issues people share with us

Our analysis of what people have told us found six common themes that people experience when it comes to mental health care:

  1. People struggle to find information about what support is available.
  2. Mental and physical health needs are treated in isolation.
  3. People feel services don’t work well together to provide care.
  4. Waiting times for diagnosis and then access to services are often seen as too long.
  5. Professionals don’t always understand people’s needs.
  6. People are not involved in decisions that affect them.

Steps being taken to improve support

In 2016, NHS England published ‘The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health’, which set a number targets to help improve people’s experiences of mental health support.  These included:

  • More 24/7 services for people experiencing a mental health crisis.
  • Expansion of community mental health services.
  • A 10% reduction in the number of people committing suicide.
  • Supporting 30,000 more women within perinatal mental health services by 2020/21.
  • Support more people with mental health conditions to find or stay in work by doubling the provision of Individual Placement Support.

An additional £1 billion will be invested into mental health care by 2021 to help meet these targets.

The focus on mental health care was supported by the Healthwatch network and many others across the health and social care, However, as the current targets are largely focused on increasing activity rather than evaluating the impact on people’s experiences of accessing support, it will be difficult to understand the full impact.

For example, we know that more people with depression and anxiety have been able to access talking therapy services as a result of extra investment, but is this support delivering the outcomes that people want? Are they having a good experience of care?

What we intend to do

Over the course of the project we will:

  • Look at the mental health support people want, from childhood to old age, focusing on the key moments in life when people need support.
  • Examine how people from different sections of the community experience life with a mental health condition to highlight any inequalities in mental health support.
  • Identify solutions, where we can, which do not treat mental health in isolation, and which seek to address the broader needs individuals may have.

Our ultimate aim is to make sure future mental health reforms focus on measuring the outcomes most important to people and to continually use people’s feedback to improve.

Find out more about the project and what we intend to do. 

Our first focus – Maternal mental health

The first area we will explore is the mental health support available to new parents.

While the severity of cases varies significantly, as many as one in five pregnant women and new mums experience some form of mental health challenge. Partners can also be affected, with the National Childbirth Trust estimating that one in three new dads are concerned about their mental health.

Despite the prevalence of maternal mental health challenges and conditions, this is an area where we currently have comparatively limited insight into people’s experiences.

This month we’ll be starting our first research phase to better understand people’s experiences of maternity and mental health. We’ll be surveying the public, local Healthwatch and stakeholders to build our insight in this area.

How you can get involved

  • If you’re a member of the public
    If you/and your partner are currently planning, are pregnant or have had a child in the last three years, please fill in our survey. Alternatively, help to share our survey online and encourage others to complete it.
    Take the survey
  • If you’re an interested stakeholder
    Share your views on maternity and mental health with us and help us gain a deeper insight into people’s experiences.
    Take the survey
  • If you work for local Healthwatch
    Complete our survey and help ensure we’ve got all the insight you currently hold about maternity and mental health that might not already be included in your reports.
    Take the survey

Find out more

Take a look at our plans for our work on mental health and find out more about our first research phase.

Find out more

Talk to your local Healthwatch

You can help make health and care services better by sharing your experiences and ideas. Talk to your local Healthwatch.

Find your nearest Healthwatch