Minister required for mental health, says Labour peer

The Government should appoint a Cabinet-level minister for mental health, an influential economist and former government adviser has said.

Labour peer Lord Richard Layard told an audience at the London School of Economics in March that mental health is a “sixth pillar” of the welfare state, yet is commonly overlooked by policy makers.

“It requires a separate Cabinet minister for mental health and social care within the Department of Health,” he said.

Layard formulated the blueprint for the “Improving Access to Psychological Therapies” programme, which is establishing a network of treatment centres for people with mild anxiety and depression.

His call was welcomed by mental health charities, with the head of policy at the Mental Health Foundation, Simon Lawton-Smith, saying that it was “essential” that mental health policy was joined up across all government departments at Cabinet level.

“This is particularly so at a time of recession when there are increasing pressures on people’s mental health and in light of significant public service cuts. The Department of Health’s new mental health strategy will only succeed if all government departments accept responsibility for delivering policies that support good mental health,” he added.

The issue of mental ill health, and the support (or lack of it) offered to employees, was starkly highlighted by the inquest in March of a Yorkshire teacher who committed suicide by setting fire to himself in a school carpark.

David Charlesworth, a science teacher that worked at Rossett School in Harrogate, felt under pressure to get good exam results and suffered bouts of depression that often coincided when A-level students were taking exams, the inquest heard.

However, he was never assessed or offered access to cognitive behavioural therapy, or referred to a specialist team, despite repeated requests from his GP.

Coroner Geoff Fell recorded a verdict that he took his own life, adding that he could not be sure the outcome would have been different if Charlesworth had met the mental health team, but he added: “I can say the chances of it being so must be greatly increased.”

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