NEWBURY MP Richard Benyon has said that work to combat mental illness in West Berkshire must be “made real” for those living with mental health issues.
Mr Benyon was speaking after a meeting of West Berkshire Council’s Health and Wellbeing board last Thursday, during which representatives from a range of organisations spoke on the topic.
The meeting heard from new mental health partnership Brighter Berkshire and the Berkshire Suicide Prevention Strategy among others, with health chiefs committing to bridge the treatment gap between physical health and mental health.
Following the meeting, Mr Benyon told the Newbury Weekly News: “The positive is that there’s an awful lot going on and a huge amount of different work streams, strategies and initiatives and all of that work is fantastic.
“What I think is the challenge of that is to make it all become real for those who are suffering from mental health issues.
“You can have all the policies in the world, but if they are not effective then they are worthless.”
One focus of the meeting was suicide rates in Berkshire, as the county bucked the national trend with an increase in the number of those taking their own life.
Recent figures revealed the number of suicides in the county increased from 54 in 2014 to 68 in 2015 (six of these in West Berkshire) – an increase of 26 per cent.
In the same time period, the South East of England saw a five-per-cent drop in suicides, while the nation as a whole saw a one-per-cent drop.
Health and Wellbeing board members resolved to aim to reduce the suicide rate in West Berkshire to zero.
Mr Benyon continued: “What’s come out is a determination, certainly from senior councillors who I’ve spoken to, who have a real desire to keep it all in reality.
“I think Brighter Berkshire is a great hook on which to hang it on, but we need to bring all those different bits of work into action.
“One example is suicide strategy for employers that was discussed.
“Through it, I was thinking ‘what a great idea, but what is being done about getting this information into the hands of business managers across West Berkshire?’
“Are we talking to the chamber of commerce? Are we contacting them over business rates? If so, why can’t we contact them with this information?
“The mental wellbeing of a workforce is something that directly relates to the bottom line of a business – it’s an economic issue.
“I’m expecting to see quite a step forward in the great work happening surrounding mental health due to the serious determination in the CCG [Clinical Commissioning Group] and the council.
“However, ultimately the proof of whether we are succeeding or not will be felt by those who are suffering from mental health issues.”
Health and Wellbeing board chairman Graham Jones said: “Supporting mental health and wellbeing throughout life is one of the key pillars of our strategy.
“With many of the existing ways to get help with issues around mental health under pressure, it is increasingly important that we continue to work to identify problems as early as possible.
“We’re committed to providing early intervention around mental health.
“Working proactively can prevent larger issues forming and ensure that the right kind of support is given at the right time.”