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Public health plans must not ignore mental health

New report highlights link between poor physical and mental health

Jo Carlowe

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Psychiatrists are calling on the government to put mental health at the heart of their new public health strategy, which is due to be unveiled later this year.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych) this week published a bank of evidence showing why public health strategies cannot afford to ignore mental health.

The position statement, No health without public mental health: the case for action, shows that people with mental disorders smoke almost half of all tobacco consumer in the UK and account for almost half of all smoking-related deaths.

In addition, depression doubles the risk of a patient developing coronary heart disease. People with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder die an average 20 years earlier than the general population, largely owing to physical health problems. People with two or more long-term physical illnesses have a seven times greater risk of depression. Moreover, children from the poorest households have a three-fold greater risk of mental ill health than children from the richest households.

RCPsych President Professor Dinesh Bhugra said: “Historically, government public health strategies have concentrated on physical health and overlooked the importance of both mental illness and mental well-being. But there is no health without mental health.

“There is vast evidence to show that mental illness is associated with a greater risk of physical illness – and physical illness in turn increases the risk of mental illness. It’s clear that strategies to improve the health of the nation will only be effective if they address mental health and wellbeing as well.”

In the position statement, the RCPsych calls on the Coalition government to make a series of important policy changes, including tackling substance addiction through a minimum alcohol pricing policy and an evidence-based addictions policy. It calls on the government to prioritise mental health within smoking cessation programmes; to target public health interventions for people at high risk such as those who are homeless, and to promote the importance of mental health and well-being in older age.

 Professor Bhugra said: “Earlier this month, a study revealed that mental illness costs the economy £105 billion a year in England alone, and is the single largest source of burden of disease. Including mental health at the heart of the public health agenda will improve people’s lifestyles and reduce health-risk behaviours, thereby both preventing physical illness and reducing the burden of mental illness on society.”

In response Care Service Minister, Paul Burstow MP, said: "The Government is clear that there is no health without mental health. That is why we will publish both a public health White Paper and mental health strategy that will break new ground.”

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