Mental illness 'biggest UK health challenge' - Miliband


Ed Miliband: "Fighting the taboo is the first thing we need to do"

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The problem of mental illness in the UK is the "biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age", Labour leader Ed Miliband has said.

It "blights the lives of millions", costing UK business £26bn and the NHS an extra £10bn a year, he said.

Mr Miliband wants to give patients the same legal right to mental health therapies as physical healthcare.

He criticised some celebrities for reinforcing the taboo around mental health and called for a culture change.

Mr Miliband was giving his first major speech since the Labour Party conference where he adopted the "one nation" slogan created by 19th Century Tory Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli.

He said that just as Disraeli addressed the national challenge of sanitation in the 19th Century, and the foundation of the NHS followed in the 20th Century, the mental health challenge facing the UK must be addressed this century.

"One in four of us will have a mental illness at some point in our lifetime," Mr Miliband said.

Start Quote

Good mental health doesn't start in hospital or the treatment room, it starts in our workplaces, our schools and our communities”

End Quote Ed Miliband Labour Party leader

"There are so many people in Britain today who could be treated but who are intimidated from seeking help. And so many people who need support but... believe that no-one will care.

"For far too long our leading politicians have been far too silent about mental health, part of a taboo running across our society which infects both our culture and our politics.

"A change of culture has happened with illnesses that have previously been taboo: from cancer to Aids to other sexually transmitted diseases.

"But it hasn't yet happened as much as it needs to with mental health."

The Labour leader criticised those in the public eye who "abuse the privilege of their celebrity to insult, demean and belittle others".

Sickness absence

This includes Janet Street-Porter and Jeremy Clarkson, whose "lazy caricatures" reinforce the taboo on the issue, he said.

"Just as we joined the fight against racism, against sexism and against homophobia, so we should join the fight against this form of intolerance."

He announced proposals to improve mental health provision in the NHS, including:

  • Rewriting the NHS constitution to enshrine patients' legal right to therapies for mental illness
  • Mental health training for all staff
  • Better integration of physical and mental healthcare, and social care

"Mental ill-health is a cradle to grave problem with nothing like a cradle to grave service," he said, with some funds earmarked for mental health services not being used for the right purpose.

Neglecting the problem ends up costing the NHS more, Mr Miliband argued, "in the strains and demands placed on those who carry the burden of care and in the trouble stored up over the years as minor problems become major ones".

Meanwhile, the annual costs to UK business are £15bn in reduced productivity, £8.5bn in sickness absence, and £2.5bn to replace staff who can no longer work.

The Labour leader is setting up a taskforce - led by the chairman of Barts Health NHS Trust, Stephen O'Brien - to draw up a strategic plan for mental health in society.

Mr Miliband said: "Too often governments have been stuck in a mindset that thought that physical health should always take priority - or that the answer to our health crises started and stopped with new government programmes.

"But good mental health doesn't start in hospital or the treatment room, it starts in our workplaces, our schools and our communities.

"So the task falls as much to organisations like the CBI as it does to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. In fact, everybody has a part to play. Only a nation acting together can overcome the challenge we face."

Mental health charities welcomed Mr Miliband's speech and his commitment to giving patients a legal right to therapies for mental illness.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: "Mental health is everyone's business. We are now seeing politicians finally realise that it isn't just the responsibility of health services to support people with mental health problems and that they have their own role to play in changing attitudes."

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of the mental health charity SANE, said: "It is extraordinary that despite the scale of the challenge and the fact that mental illness costs the NHS and employers more than any physical condition, people do not have a legal right to therapies for mental health problems."

Rethink Mental Illness praised Mr Miliband for making mental health a priority, particularly improving the training of NHS staff: "As things stand, you can become a doctor having only studied mental health for a few days.

"As a result many health professionals do not have a good enough understanding of mental illness."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    I wonder how long it'll be before a crowd of mentally ill people march into the commons & start stringing the 'clever people' up from the rafters or individuals in government are targeted at home by someone driven to insanity!

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    How did civilisation get this far when such large percentages of our population by ratio are so woefully mentally ill?

    Hmm...perhaps because the classifcation of such illnesses is flawed and that anyone who finds getting out of bed a bit of a chore is depressed and anyone who likes routine has OCD.

    More science, less coddling diagnosis. Real issues are being hidden in an overloaded system.

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Ed Miliband is right to identify mental health as a major challenge of our age, but it's sad that he puts the economic argument - about costs to business and the NHS - before the humanist one. Last week I saw "God bless America" and was shocked that the young audience laughed loudly at the central protagonist made suicidal by the egocentric, 'sick' society he inhabits. Savages beyond hope perhaps?

  • rate this

    Comment number 173.

    Cheap Soundbites from a Cheap Politician.
    Straight from the same Old Labour Book of Spin.
    Actual worth = Nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 172.

    People shouldn't have to wait months to speak to a professional, no matter how 'non-urgent' their problem is. Anxiety to bi-polar; if you're suffering, it consumes your life

    But there also needs to be a higher awareness made on the issue. I went through psychosis as a young teenager and had no idea what was happening- I thought I was possessed and spent 3 years suffering alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 171.

    I find it hard to believe a word he says about anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 170.

    The mentally incompetent Union bosses whose block votes got Milliband elected as Labour leader will certainly blight the lives of millions if he ever becomes PM.

  • rate this

    Comment number 169.

    I think mental health problems tend to be hidden away, and nowadays need to be brought out in to the open. It could help if the royals showed the lead with their problems with mental health issues in their family.

  • rate this

    Comment number 168.

    As usual a small minority ruin things for others.
    People who get signed off because they are lazy (and I've known somone do it days after taking out PPI) mean that people like Bauer dirgegirl etc believe anyone with these conditions is a skiver. And makes people less likely to come forward until they literally have a breakdown, when it's often too late.

  • Comment number 167.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 166.

    How on earth would you prove/quantify cause & effect...? Life & work are not always pleasant: that's life. Employers can't deal with all eventualities.

    True, but isn't it strange that companies who look after their staff have less illness? Employess who have a good work/life balance are 20 times less likely to have time off sick.

    And my bet're Union? just guessing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 165.

    To get adequate mental health care you have to be either a danger to yourself & others before you get access to adequate mental health services, often through the criminal system. As with most care needs, it's not addressed until there's melt down. Politicians only see the large expenditure without seeing the massive unquantifiable value in providing good care services.

  • rate this

    Comment number 164.

    Where are all these figures coming from? If mental illness is such a taboo, how do we know that "1 in 3" or "1 in 4" people are suffering? These numbers don't bear any relationship to my daily experience, unless my friends and relatives are all keeping an unfeasibly stiff upper lip. Chronic depression should not be characterised as mental illness. It's just life.

  • rate this

    Comment number 163.

    Mental Health is a challenge that we as a society have to address. For too many years it has been seen as a stigma, driven by our own fears of the out of control nature of the illness. But that is all it is an illness. We don't hide from the broken leg we treat it, but say schizophrenia and people shy away. We need to understand and help, not malign and ostracize those that suffer alone.

  • rate this

    Comment number 162.

    People have been talking about 'ending the mental health taboo' since at least 2 decades ago, when I was employed working with people with such mental illnesses.

    Milliband must have some kind of magic wand if he thinks anything he can say or do personally, from the opposition benches, is going to change the status quo one iota.

  • rate this

    Comment number 161.

    My son was left pretty much to his own devices, solely being doled out pills that were so dangerous, I marvel at the fact he is still alive! He was so ill, that there was even talk of a lobotomy to lessen his symptoms. Thank god, he didn't have it, because of late he is somewhat improved, though still very ill.We need mental illness to be seen as something more than the poor relation in medicine.

  • Comment number 160.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 159.

    The danger at the moment is opening up mental health services to what is laughingly called Any Qualified Provider. All a business has to do is recruit local counsellors who may not be specialised, and farm clients out to them - with no access to the NHS infrastructure or more specialise treatment. It will meet the numbers targets but the results could be disastrous.

  • Comment number 158.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 157.

    And on another note, if people are going to blame mental health problems on individuals for taking on too much and failing to reduce stress, what do you propose to do about a smoker who doesn't quit? An overweight person who fails to lose weight or take up exercise? If we started refusing to treat people due to their personal choices hospitals would surely be a lot emptier.


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