Leading article: A victory for positive thinking

Share

In all the noise and fury that surrounded the pre-Budget report on Tuesday, something important happened. Something more important than the rise and fall of political reputations or the ebb and flow of party advantage. Alistair Darling, the Chancellor, published plans to increase spending on NHS psychological therapy to £30m next year and £170m a year by 2010-11.

This is a significant victory for this newspaper's mental health campaign. For five years now, The Independent on Sunday has sought to promote better understanding of mental illness and better provision for the mentally ill and their families. Partly because of the pressure from our campaign, the Mental Health Act that received the Royal Assent in July was substantially better than the illiberal law repeatedly proposed by ministers.

The connection between our success in lobbying against the early form of that law and last week's victory may seem tenuous, but it is real. The original Mental Health Bill was animated by fear. Ministers used it to try to reassure us that they were acting to protect us against the small number of mentally ill people who suddenly become violent. In doing so, however, they sought too much power to detain people who had committed no crime; the Act as finally passed contains important safeguards against the abuse of such power. The focus of public policy, we argued, had to be on better management of the mentally ill and earlier intervention to pre-empt crises.

This shift in priorities is also reflected in last week's announcement. The move from pills to "talking therapies", and from crisis response to early intervention, is all part of a welcome rebalancing of mental health priorities in the NHS. Until recently, the main response of the NHS to mental illness was chemical-led. GPs do not have time to talk to their patients if they complain of stress or depression; there may be an 18-month waiting list for counselling. Often, therefore, the default response is to prescribe anti-depressants. For many people, that is enough. For many others, however, it is a denial of a problem that will get worse.

Again, this is correlated with the prevalent fear of mental illness. Low-level mental health issues touch – and frighten – nearly every family in the country. Bipolar disorder, or depression; alcoholism; disabling stress or anger: they bring misery to millions but are often assumed to be things that have to be borne – until a cry for help that cannot be wished away. We now know that talk is the most effective treatment for many of these conditions, as Professor David Richards explains below. In the long run, it may even be cheaper than chemical alternatives – especially if we take into account the wider costs to society of mental illness.

Ultimately, though, this shift in NHS priorities is not about saving money. It is part of a growing realisation that the debate about the quality of life is changing. Mental health issues need to be seen as part of a – and this is a word that can be used now without sneering connotations – holistic approach to well-being. Richard Layard and Anthony Seldon are the unlikely leaders of this movement. Lord Layard, the Labour peer and author of Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, has done much to persuade health ministers to put more money into psychological therapy. Mr Seldon, by introducing lessons in happiness at Wellington College, where he is Master, bore the brunt of the mockery that is the price to be paid by any new idea.

The idea has now entered the mainstream. We worry about children being stressed, depressed and anxious even as we know, as Tim Lott illustrates today, that their material and emotional lives are better in most respects than those of any generation before. It may be that we understand these things better now, but that this understanding produces its own new anxieties. What is encouraging is that political leaders are now engaged with the issue. David Cameron, the Conservative leader, has made the promotion of general well-being a plank of his platform. And last week Mr Darling confirmed with hard cash a shift in public rhetoric that took place when Patricia Hewitt was Secretary of State for Health. In passing, we note with approval – unexpected in newspaper leading articles, which usually demand immediate transformation – the slowness of the change. These are not services that should be expanded too fast. Good therapists take time to train.

A more sophisticated understanding of well-being – even, if we are lucky, of happiness – is one of the defining challenges of our age. Last week's pre-Budget report will probably be remembered for a huge spat over the old politics of tax and property. It ought to be remembered for taking an important first step towards the new politics of happiness.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

** Secondary History Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Secondary Geography Teacher Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

** Female PE Teacher Urgently Required In Liverpool **

£120 - £165 per day: Randstad Education Liverpool: Job opportunities for Secon...

Day In a Page

Read Next
“You're running away!” Nick said to me the other night as I tried to leave the hospital  

In Sickness and in Health: ‘There’s nothing I want more than to have you at home, but you’re not well’

Rebecca Armstrong
 

Daily catch-up: Ed Miliband on low pay; Alan Johnson on Betjeman; Tom Freeman on editing

John Rentoul
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments