09 October 2019 | by Peter Kinderman
On 7th October 2019, Public Health England launched a new national mental health resource, ‘Every Mind Matters’.
Every Mind Matters offers free, NHS-approved, mental health resources and ways to understand and maintain our mental health.
Supported by celebrities and members of the Royal family the aim is for one million adults in England to become better informed and equipped to look after their mental health and support others.
There are modules on topics such as stress, sleeplessness, anxiety and low mood, along with information on what can cause changes in our mental health, possible signs to look out for, advice on things you can do, and when we should seek further support.
However, this isn’t a primary treatment service. It’s been designed to complement NHS services (GP practices, psychological services, residential care, etc), with appropriate signposting for those who would benefit from additional support.
As a member of the expert advisory group guiding the development of the resource, and a Clinical Advisor for Public Health England, helping oversee the content, I was keen to ensure that Every Mind Matters avoided labelling and the imposition of professional perspectives.
I’ve always championed an approach to mental health which avoids pathologising our very human responses to life’s challenges, and continue to promote inclusive and accessible social and psychological approaches to protecting and promoting our mental health.
Mental health issues have been prominent in the media in recent years, but much of the focus has been the weaknesses of traditional approaches (such as the adverse effects of medication).
This new resource is much more constructive – we’re learning how to build new and more positive ways of supporting people in distress, and our conversations about difficult emotions are becoming increasingly inclusive, optimistic and positive.
These days the public, and especially young people, seem to be more willing to discuss their mental health, in ways that recognise the reality of the difficulties but reject the pessimism and negativity of the past.
Every Mind Matters is an important part of that vision, and I’m delighted to have played a part in its development.
As we developed the resource, it became clear that our ways of thinking have the power to include or exclude, and can lead to a sense of agency or a stripping away of a sense of hope.
This is all driven by evidence – one of the first things that Public Health England did was to commission a review of the effectiveness and lessons learned from previous mental health awareness campaigns.
This review revealed that approaches based on medicalising language, and on the principle that the best way to address mental health concerns is to spot the early warning signs of disease and seek medical help, tended to be ineffective.
It also raised scientific concerns over the validity of many so-called ‘mental illnesses’, as this ‘disease like any other’ approach tended to lead to more negative attitudes and a sense of passivity and even pessimism.
Instead, we worked on the principle that we can all experience emotional distress, and that this is a normal response to the challenges in our lives, even though there are clear differences in the intensity of our responses, and the impact on our lives.
As Paul Salkovskis, another Clinical Advisor on Every Mind Matters, said:
“We have been very careful on quality control and accuracy and the language used, building on the work done previously to normalise the way people talk about mental health.
A lot has been done to reduce stigma and shame, but we are not there yet”
We therefore set out to develop a resource that aimed to engage and inspire a sense of agency, offering things that each of us could do to build better mental health and wellbeing.
Of course, we were mindful of the risk that such an approach could unintentionally ignore or minimise the plight of people with major problems.
That was, of course, never our aim.
Indeed, when launching the resource, Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, took care to point out how Every Mind Matters has been designed to complement (not replace) NHS services, and the Royal College of General Practitioners is keen to use the resource as a tool for GPs.
Suzanne Moore, writing in the Guardian, expressed some concerns.
She pointed out that exercise and advice can be helpful, but should never be seen as replacements for properly funded, clinically effective, NHS services.
And, of course, she’s right. These services need to be properly funded (which they’re not at present).
The resources of Every Mind Matters should be seen as complementing, as opposed to replacing, existing services, and are likely to be genuinely helpful for many people.
If our problems are relatively minor, or if we’re able to catch things early, actions that we can take ourselves (maybe with support from our GP) might be enough (just as actions to protect our physical health can prevent future, more serious, problems).
But, as both Matt Hancock and Suzanne Moore said, we need resources like this AND high-quality, effective, NHS and social services.
Parity of esteem should mean just that. As in the rest of the NHS, we campaign for the highest quality clinical services for people who have life-threatening problems, but ALSO for prevention.
It’s a form of subtle discrimination that, in mental health, we tend to assume that any service that aims to help us improve our own mental health is likely to be a cover for the cutting of front-line services.
We shouldn’t have to choose between primary prevention (which is badly needed), resources such as Every Mind Matters, and the kinds of emergency services that the NHS was designed to offer.
We have a need, and a right, to them all.