Jude Stansfield, National adviser, Public Mental Health, Public Health England introduces a new national leadership and workforce development framework for public mental health

Equipping our specialist, practitioner and wider workforce with public mental health skills has never been more timely.  This includes developing our ability and confidence to promote mental health and wellbeing, prevent mental illness and suicide and improve the lives of people with mental illness. 

The parity of esteem challenge reminds us all that mental health is still not being dealt with on a par with physical health and people with mental illness face some of the starkest health inequalities.  We are facing rising numbers of suicides and a prediction by WHO that depression will soon be the disease with the biggest impact on our population – more than cancer, heart disease, obesity, dementia.  Developing the workforce is a key opportunity to tackle this priority and will help address other health and social outcomes such as education, crime, employment as well as behaviour change, self-management and resilience.

Public Health England has been working with RSPH and other partners to produce the first national leadership and workforce development framework for public mental health.  This includes six ambitions focussing on advocacy, expertise, community empowerment, promotion, prevention and parity.  The framework is a call to action to all partners with an interest in the public’s health.  We’re encouraging agencies to take action in commissioning, developing or providing workforce development in order to achieve the ambitions – there are a set of actions, competencies and core principles to help with this. 

The workforce includes the specialist and senior public health staff who need the competence and expertise to lead and commission public mental health, supported by academia and the provision of relevant competency frameworks, curricula and course content. Front-line workers are also key, whether they are public health practitioners or the wider workforce.

Housing and neighbourhood workers have key roles in community empowerment; health visitors, school nurses, teachers can do much to improve family mental health, resilience and wellbeing; emergency services frequently work with people in distress; and mental health service staff, primary care and health improvement practitioners have key roles in improving the physical health of people with mental illness.

There is some excellent practice out there already, most of it not yet at scale and much of it difficult to evaluate impact.  Other challenges include building staff confidence to discuss mental health, skills and brief interventions that build people’s ability to stay mentally well and addressing both social determinants and access to prevention services for people with mental illness.

Leadership is key to it all; whether those in a position of power, or advocates who can do much to champion this agenda.  We all have a role in putting public mental health at the heart of a 21st century public health system.

The framework and call to action can be downloaded at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/public-mental-health-leadership-and-workforce-development-framework