One in four adults and one in ten children experience mental health problems to some degree in any year, and mental ill-health is a major cost to society, particularly the criminal justice system, and health and care services.
Without mental health there is no health, and it is increasingly recognised that we should be giving the same priority to mental health as physical health in terms of prevention, early intervention, treatment and rehabilitation. Poor mental health carries an economic and social cost of over a hundred billion pounds each year in England.
Devon’s population compares well nationally and to similar areas when looking at indicators of physical health, but compares much less favourably when we consider measures of mental health. General indicators of wellbeing and happiness seem really good – but like overall life expectancy in Devon, can mask the experience of those whose mental health outcomes are poor. Inequality exists in just the same way for mental health as for physical health, with the added disadvantage that mental illness and physical illness often co-exist, leading to significantly worse outcomes.
How can we address inequalities that may not even be visible? An approach that starts with the best chance of lifelong mental health through the promotion and active support of breastfeeding, and a loving family environment during the early years of a child’s life. A period of growth and development during school-age years that builds aspiration, self-esteem and resilience and minimises the risk of stress, anxiety and depression. A period of transition into young adulthood that enables the young person to feel that they are achieving the most out of life, and experience of life and work that adds to personal satisfaction, avoidance of poverty and debt, and positive relationships, moving into older age with positive social networks and the avoidance of isolation and loneliness. Communities that are kind, supportive, nurturing, vibrant, and where young and old learn from and respect one another.
This report makes a number of recommendations to improve the mental health and wellbeing of the population of Devon.
Professor Virginia Pearson, Chief Officer for Communities, Public Health, Environment and Prosperity; Director of Public Health for Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly