Attitudes to mental health are changing but the budget lags behind

We took the opportunity to ask delegates to May’s DiMHN Conference some questions.  Our survey set out to explore whether changed attitudes to mental health were contributing to an improved mental health environment, but we’ll admit that to fully investigate the subject, we’d need much more than a quick survey of opinions. That said, we believe the results are encouraging, although for all three of our questions we had responses at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Here’s a quick summary of the results. We asked:

To what extent should physical and mental health service provision be treated as separate things?

65% of respondents said:  Not at all. Integration is the way forward

15% said: Somewhat

20% said: Completely.

That’s a strong vote in favour of integrated services, supporting the view of many that the distinction between physical and mental health is artificial and constraining. But those who were in favour of the complete separation of services were adamant. We’re surprised that more people didn’t opt for the middle route, which would perhaps offer the inclusivity, flexibility and tailored provision required.

Question 2 asked:

Are high-profile campaigns on mental health awareness helping to promote the case for improved design in the mental health environment?

45% of respondents said:  Yes, we’re seeing changed attitudes

40% said: Yes, to some extent

15% said: No, not in practice.

Although we’re delighted that 85% of people believed the case for improved design was being helped, it’s clear we’ve still got a long way to go. We might be at some remove from the conditions of the Victorian era, but there are still many facilities that aren’t good enough and don’t work effectively. Opinions are changing, but we still need to take the next steps and translate the improved attitudes and awareness into practical steps.

Our final question asked about the practical steps. We asked:

How receptive are budget controllers to new ideas for the mental health environment?

35% said budget controllers stuck to the tried and tested

30% said that they researched and implemented based on evidence

30% said they allocated limited funds and ‘tested the water’

5% said that the budget controllers jumped right in.

What’s clear from these numbers is that budget controllers are cautious. Those willing to explore a new idea want to see evidence, and trials rather than large-scale adoption are the normal approach.

There are messages here for all of us involved in the field. Even though we’re making progress, we must do more to get our message across and provide the evidence. We should use best practice examples to illustrate what can be done, and encourage the budget holders to join and shape the debate about the mental health environment.

A quick thank-you is owed to all who answered our questions. If you’d like to add your voice or share other viewpoints, we’d love to hear from you.