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Sustained funding in community initiatives can ‘boost’ public mental health

Local initiatives supported by sustained funding of can ‘boost’ community mental health, according to the Made in Communities report revealing how much is possible when the government work ‘arm-in-arm’ with local people.

The Made in Communities report evaluated the work of the Better Mental Health. The £15 million fund was formed by the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities (OHID) in 2021 with the aim of addressing the mental health challenges caused by the covid-19 pandemic.

Andy Bell, chief executive of the CFMH said: ‘this report shows what is possible with wise investment in the public’s mental health. We mustn’t let it be a one-off event in the aftermath of the pandemic. There’s so much more that councils and communities could do together, with the right support, to boost people’s mental health.’

Funding was given to 40 local communities, which face some of the highest levels of deprivation in the country. The money was spend on 314 separate initiatives which were guided by the needs of the each local area.

The grant funded a ‘spectrum of prevention and support’ which offered projects, workshops and support groups for those both at risk of experiencing poor mental health and those already facing significant challenges. The aim is to provide long term, preventative solutions which address the underlying causes of mental health struggles, including isolation, exclusion and poverty.

Sean Duggen, chief executive of the NHS confederation’s Mental Health Network said: ‘social determinants are significant drivers of poor mental health, and poverty and deprivation can significantly worsen someone’s outcomes. For example, children from the most deprived 20% of households are four times as likely to have serious mental health difficulties by the age of 11 as those from the wealthiest 20%.

‘We agree that short term funding can be harmful and creates uncertainty for providers, and it’s especially difficult for voluntary sector organisations to survive on this type of arrangement. Investment should be long term, not year on year, and we need to see better mechanisms for funding evidence-based models which have gone through a pilot phase and produced positive results.’

The report supports claims that longevity across the board is key to successful implementation. Rapid timescales were seen to ‘limit the ambition’ of certain interventions, and drew focus away from helping people with multiple, complex needs. More time was needed to address sensitive, stigmatised issues, such as self-harm and suicide. This has to be supported by sustained, long-term funding as one participant commented: ‘fundamental change can take time. It takes time to work with people and get to grips with what’s going on for them’.

Drawing on evidence from the report, the NHS Confederation are calling on more public health grants, ‘with a specific commitment to spend a dedicated proportion on mental health, so local authorities can invest in innovative, evidenced and proactive preventative initiatives.’

Setting out his hopes for the future of mental health support, Mr Bell said: ‘imagine if this was the norm across the country. If local authorities were able to build and nurture community-led mental health projects longer term with sustained funding and commitment.

‘Imagine if our mental health was always taken as seriously as our physical health. If communities were properly supported to lead the way in promoting better mental health for all.’