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 396.

    Some of Ed's political adversaries have been so busy curbing the equalities of disabled and mentally ill people that they have given no thought to the impact on us of welfare reform and compulsions to be in harness when we have unmanageable MH conditions.In the DWP, targetting the most vulnerable has become a cycle of benefit confiscation and successful appeal against ATOS travesty. What a farce.

  • rate this

    Comment number 395.

    ... Some people can't imagine that *anything* could have been better, ..."

    So putting people with often quite mild mental health problems in an institution for life is better than Care In The Community (just about Thatcher's only good idea, if she'd funded it)?

    Up till then mentally ill people were hidden from the public in asylums permanently - out of sight, out of mind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 394.

    It would be interesting to see what percentage of the UK population have mental health problems compared to a country that doesn't have something like DLA for sufferers.

  • Comment number 393.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 392.

    This is an important subject, but as usual, Ed 'one-notion' Miliband trying to self promote and get a few more votes (he hopes).

    In his opinion we've had far too much good news recently, so let's cook up a new topic to distract the voter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 391.

    Maybe I know a lot more about the causes of mental illness and the problems people have in dealing with loved ones who suffer from it than you give me credit for. It's a stupid comparison and totally irrelevant.

    Inadequate funding? It's not possible to adequately fund it. It could easily swallow the entire GDP, it cannot be cured.

  • rate this

    Comment number 390.

    Dr-G and what positive contribution regarding mental health have we had from the so called government????????????????????

  • rate this

    Comment number 389.

    I'm glad somebody is trying to de-stigmatise mental health issues. I have a long history of depression, tracking back to when I was ten years old and it can be utterly crippling. Tomorrow I am seeing a psychiatrist and only fear of being stigmatised has stopped me from doing this in the past.

    Depression is so much more than simply being 'sad'. It takes over your life and every waking hour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 388.

    It's all in the head

  • rate this

    Comment number 387.

    @385.News at 10

    You need to pick up the leaflets that come with all antidepressant, the side effect of these drugs include "can cause depression"

  • Comment number 386.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 385.

    @378. calumgilhooley

    LOL did you even read that link

    "But UK experts warned other conflicting research had linked cannabis, and other cannabinoids, to an increased risk of depression and anxiety."

    Make sure you read your links next time, that was just a study of 1 isolated compound, cannabis has a whole actually causes depression according to UK experts, i know who i believe.

  • rate this

    Comment number 384.

    ETV, 355;

    "What!? They used to just stuff everyone into old fashioned asylums instead, conveniently out of the public's gaze."

    Some people can't imagine that *anything* could have been better, at *any* point in the past, than it is *now*. But in the 50s, people knew their neighbours and lived in identifiable *communities*. Lives also had a spiritual dimension.

  • rate this

    Comment number 383.

    I am disgusted Miliband is trying to politicise this, it is not for unqualified politicians to tell me how I should think about anyone, & saying the Janet Street Porter, one of our own, is out of order to the nation

    Your are pathetic and need to review what you are doing to draw attention to yourself, you are head of the Labour party and need to start to behave like a leader & not a school boy

  • Comment number 382.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 381.

    I suffered from erious clinical depression a few years ago, my GP offered me anti-depressants, which I refused. I got out in the fresh air and walked a lot, the best cure for depression.
    Jeremy Clarkson's tongue in cheek remarks do not upset me, I find him quite funny, extremely so at times.
    Get a life, relax and enjoy your life, laugh a little as it is the only one you will ever have!

  • Comment number 380.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 379.

    We need to treat mental health problems as seriously as we do physical health problems. Depression, for example, can wreck a person's life, and those of their family, but it can be treated, and provided the individual is ready to accept help and work to improve their condition, the treatment has a very good chance of success. Just for a dozen or so hours talking to a professional about it.

  • Comment number 378.

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

  • Comment number 377.

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


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