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Mental health: more than just an awareness week

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Health and Wellbeing, Mental health, Reducing the burden of disease

This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week, with a focus on anxiety. New research from the Mental Health Foundation finds that anxiety is more common than many realise but the good news is that anxiety can be effectively managed if help and treatment are sought early.

At PHE we’re supporting the week with a series of internal events to raise awareness of anxiety and promote the services available to employees concerned about their mental wellbeing, or about someone else. We have a 24 hour helpline for confidential assistance for all our staff, as well as access to The Big White Wall – an online community where people can talk openly and anonymously about what’s on their mind.

Throughout the week there have been internal events designed to promote good mental health and wellbeing, all using the Five Ways to Wellbeing (connect, be active, take notice, keep learning and give). Coincidentally, we are also in the middle of Walk to Work week with lunchtime and evening walks across PHE sites to encourage connections and staying active.

Of course, mental health is about more than just an awareness week.  Whilst this week focuses on the important topic of anxiety, this is just one of many issues that are of concern to the public’s mental health and wellbeing.

We used to say that mental health and wellbeing issues didn’t get the correct attention, but I feel confident in saying this is changing for the better. My colleague Kevin Fenton blogged last year on how across society there seems to be a new focus on promoting good mental health for all, including improving the lives of those living with and recovering from mental health difficulties. It’s worth repeating that one in four of us experience a mental health problem in any year, and that The Centre for Mental Health has estimated that mental health problems cost the economy in England £105bn per year.

So what is PHE’s part in this new focus on promoting good mental health? Since Kevin’s blog we have seen the publication of Closing the Gap - a Government action plan that sets ambitions for 25 areas of mental health. We are tasked with working with others to make these ambitions a reality. There is a real focus on building up the evidence base, so that local areas know what is best to commission for the greatest benefit in promoting good mental health. This has led to a joint venture with NHS England and the Department of Health to launch a new national Mental Health Intelligence Network next month, promoting data and information to make real improvements on the ground.

We are also tasked with improving the understanding of mental health issues within the public health workforce, so we will shortly be sharing new guidance to empower colleagues working in this area. Later this year we are excited to be piloting a Five Ways to Wellbeing public information campaign in the North West.

A crucial goal for us is to improve the physical health of people with mental health problems as part of the Living Well for Longer action plans. The difference in life expectancy between those living with a mental illness compared to those without remains incredibly high (20 years for men, 15 for women). Those with a mental illness have higher rates of cancer, heart disease, obesity, respiratory disease and diabetes. Almost 50% of all tobacco is smoked by people with a mental illness. We have a difficult challenge here but by getting practical resources to where they are needed, for example to GPs or those working in the public health workforce, we can make huge strides in improving the quality of life for those living with a mental health problem.

We are also forming our own plans to improve the nation’s mental health and wellbeing. To help with our future work we are hosting a series of 15 local events around England between now and the end of June to hear from local authorities, community organisations and those on the ground on how PHE can best support their needs. We have asked for, and received, very useful feedback about the situation our local partners are facing. These local events also offer an opportunity for local organisations to showcase their best practices of improving mental health and wellbeing. We have been hearing of some very innovative and inspiring practices, and will share what we have learned later this year in a PHE Plan for Mental Health and Wellbeing

I think you’d agree that these are big plans for PHE. For us, mental health is a very important aspect of PHE’s wider work to shift the narrative from a health system that just focuses on treating illness to one that actively promotes health and wellbeing.


Featured image via NHS image library. Used under Crown Copyright.

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  1. Comment by Noel Shaw posted on

    So why is it so difficult to access Mental Health Services?

    Despite an initial "assessment", I am still waiting, over six months later, for any kind of therapy, despite being diagnosed with Severe Depression!

  2. Comment by ed posted on

    Almost 50% of all tobacco is smoked by people with a mental illness. "

    Where did this figure come from? People with a mental illness are much more likly to smoke. I have seen figures showing that 50 percent of people with mental issue smoke, well figures i sore showed slighty more. I have never seen a figure that says that 50 percent of tobacco is consummed by people with mental illness so would be interested to know what method was used. How was the mental issue defined, what samping was used etc.

  3. Comment by Bren posted on

    Hello Gregor,

    A very important and interesting blog.

    I am confident the profile of mental health is rising, and focused and timely services need to respond too.

    I was pleased of the citing of parity with physical health as this is so important.

    I think Child and Adolescent Mental Health service provision, particularly in acute settings, but in community provision too, is an area of justifiable focus.

    I also wondered if we may want to look at diagnosis and areas of greater need and who, and what if any specific population groups are being undeserved.

    A very key blog and a good follow on from Kevin Fenton's previous blog,

    With all good wishes and thank you for all you and Public Health England, and partners are doing for people and communities.

    Best wishes,


  4. Comment by JohnC posted on

    We have to face facts that outcomes once mentally ill are poor; very often a lifetime of major suffering, collateral suffering of family and friends, and major economic cost. So we really, really need to focus now on real prevention. And that isn't yoga classes, or five ways to wellbeing; that is pre-natal parenting education on the child's lifetime mental health, and use of pre-emptive CBT by everyone.