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Building knowledge and skills in public mental health

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Providing the right training and building the capacity of the workforce to promote mental health and wellbeing and prevent mental illness is essential if we are to reduce health inequalities and increase skills in enabling people to recognise and manage their health and wellbeing.

Good mental health underpins health and wellbeing and also our ability to change unhealthy behaviours or manage long-term conditions.

Mental illness is also associated with many physical health conditions and, as reported in the recent Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey, one adult in six has anxiety or depression.

It is essential, therefore, that our entire workforce is trained in mental health.

The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health, published in February this year, put forward a set of recommendations for the six NHS arm's length bodies to achieve the ambition of parity of esteem between mental and physical health for children, young people, adults and older people – this includes within public health.

The report recognises our work on publishing the Public Mental Health Leadership and Workforce Development Framework and that it should be fully implemented.

This includes ensuring public mental health is within all core professional training and that continuing professional development is available to the frontline workforce in working with communities, promoting mental health, preventing suicide and improving the health and wellbeing of people with mental illness.

The vital role of the workforce

The Five Year Forward View for Mental Health has called for core training in public mental health and validated courses in mental health promotion and prevention for the public health workforce.

It also recognises the importance of resilience and wellbeing for healthcare staff themselves – something we are actively addressing in PHE.

PHE’s recent Fit for the Future workforce report also recognises that knowledge and skills in public mental health are needed by the entire public health workforce, particularly leadership for public mental health, addressing psychosocial mechanisms underpinning health and building community capacity.

However, it can be difficult to know exactly what training is available and most applicable for a particular setting.

This month, PHE and Health Education England have jointly published a set of emerging practice examples in mental health promotion and prevention training programmes to support those who commission or deliver workforce development and highlight the importance of building capacity across the system to meet the prevention challenge.

The examples support implementation of our public mental health leadership and workforce development framework, and particularly our aim to build the confidence and competence of frontline staff to communicate with people about mental health and support them to improve it, and to recognise the signs of distress and intervene appropriately.

Having the confidence to communicate about mental health and wellbeing is a challenge that can be overcome with good quality training, and will help professionals implement Make Every Contact Count (MECC).

The MECC Consensus statement launched earlier in the year now recommends mental health and wellbeing as part of all MECC programmes.

Training programmes included in this new publication are relevant for:

  • Leaders and commissioners – Mental Wellbeing Impact Assessment and Warwick University’s Public Mental Health module
  • Frontline staff wanting to promote good mental health and wellbeing – Connect 5, Wheel of Wellbeing, Mindfulness, Living Life to the Full and RSPH’s Understanding mental health and wellbeing
  • Frontline staff needing to recognise distress, prevent suicide and provide appropriate support – Mental Health First Aid, safeTALK, ASIST, STORM, Connecting with People suicide prevention and Postvention: assisting those bereaved by suicide training

Information about the aims, content, benefits, effectiveness and costs of these programmes can be found in the publication.

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