This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, which highlights the importance of good mental health, and how we can make it easier for people to get the right support they need.

Even if we haven’t personally experienced poor mental health, few of us can be in any doubt about the scale of the issue.

The figures speak for themselves -; almost one in four people will experience some kind of mental health problem each year. Those affected may face a shorter life expectancy, while the estimated cost of mental health problems to the UK economy is a staggering £70 -;100 billion per year.

Given the profound personal, social and economic impact poor mental health can have, it is vitally important that we all play a role -; politicians, businesses, and the public alike -; in improving support for people with mental ill health.

While making it easier to talk about mental health is an essential first step – it’s not enough. People must also be able to access the support they need as quickly as possible.

Despite the government pledging to achieve a ‘parity of esteem’ between physical and mental health care, there have been some worrying trends which bring this commitment into question.

I recently pressed government ministers on the key issues facing mental health services, but their responses suggested a failure to acknowledge the extent and complexity of the crisis in mental health care.

Growing numbers of mental health nurses are leaving the profession, while funding cuts mean that remaining staff feel overstretched and unable to care for their patients.

Too many patients across the country -; including children and young adults – are being sent hundreds of miles from their home in order to receive treatment. Being so far away from support networks can have a negative impact on their recovery, and make the experience even more stressful for loved ones.

Although the government talks of its ‘ambitions’ to improve the state of mental health care, there is little to suggest this is becoming a reality.

This is particularly true when it comes to children’s mental health, where the government is being warned that its plans could in fact lead to thousands of young people unable to access the vital care they need.

If we are serious about making sure that those experiencing mental health difficulties can talk openly about it, and more importantly, get the help they need – ministers must match their words on ‘parity of esteem’ with action.

To read this article in the Sunderland Echo, click here

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