Health secretary Matt Hancock says that mental health needs to be treated “in the same way as physical illness” in the wake of Prime Minister Theresa May appointing a Suicide Prevention minister.
The position, thought to be the world’s first, will be filled by heath minister Jackie Doyle-Price, and her appointment was announced on World Mental Health Day, October 10.
The Prime Minister has also pledged up to £1.8 million to ensure the Samaritans' helpline remains free for the next four years, to help those most in need.
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Hancock told talkRADIO: “She will take the lead across government for preventing suicide and supporting mental health services.
“We’ve put a £20 billion investment into the NHS, we’re currently writing a long term plan for how that is spent, and clearly, mental health services are a priority within that.
“This isn’t just a matter for the health department, there’s a link right across government. There’s a link to homelessness and rough sleeping, and a very large proportion of people in prisons have got mental health problems.
“Having a minister specifically responsible for suicide prevention will help as tackle these on a joined-up basis and get the priority they deserve.”
'Talk about mental heath without the squeamishness'
Suicide Prevention Minister Jackie Doyle-Price. Image: PA
The second day of a mental health summit took place at County Hall, London, on Wednesday, with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in attendance.
Hancock also attended the summit, and told Julia Hartley-Brewer he hoped the stigma around mental health would reduce.
“Stigma has been a big problem,” he said.
“It’s had a direct impact on people not getting the support they need, it also just hasn’t been as central to government priorities as it needs to be.
“Figures show there isn’t enough access to services, but before 2012, they weren’t measured at all. We brought in the measurement so we can improve policy around it.”
He added that high-profile figures talking about their own struggles with mental health helped the cause.
“I do think that talking about mental illness, without the squeamishness there’s been in the past, is really important,” Hancock said.
“There are some people with big public profiles who’ve played a fantastic role in doing that. Stephen Fry has been brilliant, MPs like Charles Walker, who’ve come forward and said, this is part of my life, and it needs to be treated in the same way as a physical illness.”
A Royal College of Psychiatrists survey released on Tuesday of 500 diagnosed mental health patients found a third waited at least three months for NHS treatment.
Some 6% waited up to a year, and others even had a 13-year wait getting the correct treatment.
Around 4,500 people take their lives every year in England and suicide remains the leading cause of death among men under the age of 45.
Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org.