Tackling the wider causes of mental health problems must be part of the new Welsh Government strategy, according to a Senedd committee report.
Inequalities like poverty, housing, and discrimination mean the wellbeing of the population will not improve – no matter what mental health services are in place.
Following a year-long inquiry, today’s Senedd Health and Social Care Committee report sets out 27 recommendations that should shape the next decade of Wales’s mental health strategy when the Welsh Government’s current Together for Mental Health strategy comes to an end this year.
They include actions to reduce poverty, new training in schools and public services, and cross-government coordination.
The proposals were developed following expert testimony and the advice of an advisory group made up of people from across Wales with first-hand experience of mental health inequalities.
Advisory group member Naomi Lea said:
“There is rightly a lot of talk about mental health at the moment – but it doesn’t seem to cover the causes, only tackling the symptoms.
“For me, if I didn’t grow up with the trauma and experience of poverty that I have I don’t think I would need to use those services today. I’ve struggled with anxiety since I was around 14, and since then I’ve consistently been treated for the symptoms – rather than for my experience as a person.
“But I know trauma, poverty and growing up as a young carer impacted my mental health – those are the root causes of the experiences that I’ve had.
“ I hope this report will help people realise we can do more than just invest in mental health services themselves – we can stop people needing those services in the first place.”
Advisory group member Myles Lewando said:
“I’ve struggled with my mental health my whole life, and it’s only within the last decade that I started to seek help for it. But the help that I have received has been lacking and I have been passed back and forth between different services without getting the right treatment.
“GPs can’t deal with it themselves, so they refer you to a nine-month waiting list for specialist mental health care, during which time the problems get worse. When you get there, they can only give an unsuitable type of therapy which doesn’t help. You’re ticked off the NHS list, but actually you’re back to square one.
“And the economic struggles that many of us are going through translate directly to worse mental health struggles. It’s time to realise that treatment is important but it won't help if you can't pay your bills.
“There’s no one-size fits all solution. The services themselves need to be made fit for purpose, the wider causes and economic issues need to be addressed, and it all needs to be within a joined-up system where each different part knows what the others are doing. This report’s recommendations try to address all of that.”
Russell George MS, Chair of the Senedd Health and Social Care Committee said:
“Our mental health can’t be separated from our living conditions and circumstances - and it’s really important that mental health services take that into account.
Anybody can struggle with their mental health, but some groups of people are at much greater risk, and this is often linked to inequalities in society.
“The new Welsh Government strategy is our chance to make sure we prioritise tackling the wider causes of poor mental health and addressing those causes, not just patching up the symptoms.
“It’s also our opportunity to bring different services together to make sure everyone can get the help they need as an individual, not as a condition.
“The recommendations we’ve put forward set out a way to achieve those goals.”
The report, Connecting the dots: tackling mental health inequalities in Wales, recommends a mental health strategy that recognises inequalities in society are a barrier to improving the wellbeing of the population.
It asks the Welsh Government to detail what tools it has at its disposal to tackle those inequalities – and which are within the control of the UK Government.
It also calls for an independent review of the impact of the UK welfare system on mental health and wellbeing in Wales, and research into the effect of devolution of welfare policy could have on tackling health inequalities in Wales.
Help and support
If you need help and support, the C.A.L.L mental health helpline for Wales provides mental health and emotional support, and signposting to local services:
Freephone 24 hours a day on 0800 132 737, or text HELP to 81066.
If you’re struggling to cope, need to talk to someone or feeling suicidal, you can contact Samaritans:
Freephone 24 hours a day from any phone on 116 123.
Welsh Language Line: 0808 164 0123 (7pm-11pm, 7 days a week)