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 236.

    "231.Eddy from Waring
    ...I think many of the things that afflict people are very serious indeed, and the consequences of those afflictions, whether unhappiness (depression) or fear (anxiety)...."

    Fair enough - you care.
    However, my point is that clinical depression isn't "being unhappy" - it is a condition which can manifest in many ways.
    Personally I feel the name is misleading.

  • Comment number 235.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 234.

    @218. SeeDubya

    My point is simple, it is all very well Miliband trying to claim mental health as a Labour cause, but the reality is that when the opportunity was theirs to do something about it, they did nothing, when they had the resources. Having squandered the resources it is a bit rich to start telling the gullible public this is what should be done. An apology for not doing it is needed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 233.

    I had very severe depression several years ago. I was well treated by my GP and made a complete recovery. Earlier this year due to a family breakdown I could feel myself slipping back into depression and went back to my GP. Short term medication and a 8 counselling sessions enabled me to cope with my stress and return to functionality. I count myself very lucky with my GP.

  • rate this

    Comment number 232.

    11. Bauer
    Please comment on subject you know something about. There is a strong relationship between job loss and mental health issues, in particular men. Judging by the number of suicides on the Kings lynn to Liverpool st line - there is an epidemic at the moment. BTW March in Cambridgeshire is the divorce and suicide capital of UK. Have visited it once and completely understand why.

  • rate this

    Comment number 231.


    "...gave the impression that you don't think depression is serious. Did I misunderstand you?..."


    I think many of the things that afflict people are very serious indeed, and the consequences of those afflictions, whether unhappiness (depression) or fear (anxiety) are exactly why they're serious. The injurious agent(s) very often lie outside the sufferer though.

  • Comment number 230.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 229.

    As a carer for someone with mental health illness I applaud Milliband for raising public awareness of the issues.

    Life is being made for the person I care for by the current government - you try explaining to a paranoid schizophrenic that the ESA/Atos fiasco. the 'bedroom tax' and 20% council tax isn't going to make them homeless - when very likely it is. I don't know how they can sleep at night.

  • rate this

    Comment number 228.

    Red Ed Miliband and the smoked-salmon socialist ideology of Labour would do more than anything to aggravate the crisis in mental health in this country. It is directly linked to the disintegration of our communities, which in turn is the result of successive all-out assaults, driven by the type of trendy PC gibberish so beloved of his party, on the sacred institution of marriage and the family.

  • rate this

    Comment number 227.

    Mental illness 'biggest UK health challenge' - Miliband

    Nah, stupid politicians interfering are the biggest challenge

  • rate this

    Comment number 226.

    Oh yes I remember,they squandered billions rebuilding schools when there were perfectly good private schools that parents could have sent their kids to if they hadnt been so idle & poor. Then they spent more billions on NHS hospitals

    All PFI private sector money we now have to pay back many millions more in debt charges. I dont think much of the cost Government ever squandered up front

  • rate this

    Comment number 225.

    Another vague/uncosted programme - when many doctors & psycologists can give different diagnoses for the same patient & many criminals claiming mental health problems to gain softer sentencing - Milliband needs to explain how the NHS can provide any better output than it is doing already. Perhaps Milliband can propose a law stopping Labour PM's calling people 'bigots'?

  • rate this

    Comment number 224.

    Until we stop quantifying every social issue with £ then well never find a lasting solution to anything. £ is valueless to anything with depth and virtue

  • rate this

    Comment number 223.

    Milliband un doubstedly has a point, but the problem is what is meant by the term "mental health"?

    OCD can be very disabling, on the other hand it can barely be noticeable.

    No one is completely stable or completely rational anymore than they are always physically well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 222.

    Personally I would not get too worked up about the celebrity culture of this country. They are mostly ignorant of issues and pander to the chattering culture of the day, grossly overpaid and obscently undertaxed.
    Get out and read books and do your own research. Our media for the most parts with some noteable exceptions are downright liars Blair, Cameron and Clegg style.

  • rate this

    Comment number 221.

    I hate to be cynical, but you can agree with practically everything these guys say about health and social care when they're in opposition; it's when they're in government that they need to put up but never do. Suddenly, a problem always appears about having to cut budgets because of the recession etc and mental health slips down the list of priorities.

  • rate this

    Comment number 220.

    >>Bauer: "man up and stop being victims" !!!

    Depression is not being a bit sad because you broke your favourite mug. Depression can affect you no matter what the weather/your bank balance/how your team is doing. Depression doesn't go away because you tried harder today. It's like a lingering infection that resists drugs and debilitates you, making it harder to fight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 219.

    Just heard Jeremy C described as a peoples champion on the BBC TV news version of this story..

    What? A rich posh boy who drives expensive cars and thinks that wreaths by the side of the road are better than speed limits in spite of the fact that the drivers who cause the deaths have a much higher survival rate than cyclists and pedestrians?

    Ed has the measure of him better than the BBC does..

  • rate this

    Comment number 218.

    212. Violet Mildred
    this was the case for the entire 13 years labour had money and squandered it on their pet projects

    Like what?
    Oh yes I remember, they squandered billions rebuilding schools when there were perfectly good private schools that parents could have sent their kids to if they hadn't been so idle and poor. Then they spent more billions on NHS hospitals as if BUPA didn't even exist.

  • rate this

    Comment number 217.

    Discrimmination against mental health problems is carried out OFFICIALLY by the DWP and benefits systems. Payments are less for mental health problems.


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