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World Mental Health Day

Those of you who have read previous contributions from me to Lib Dem Voice will know that at the very top of my list of priorities as a health minister is to transform the care and support for people with mental health problems. Every year, the Mental Health Foundation - one of Britain's leading mental health research and policy charities - holds World Mental Health day, to raise awareness of different mental health conditions. Mental health has always struggled to attract the same attention as physical health conditions, and initiatives like this have played a valuable role in gradually turning the tide.

As many will know from personal or family experiences, mental health conditions can affect people in different ways. People are also sometimes hesitant to tell others about the problems they are experiencing and seek help. It is crucial that we ensure there is the same level of access to crisis mental health care as there is to physical health care, and that there are appropriate maximum waiting times for treatment. But we have to go further.

There is a tremendous amount of evidence to suggest that people with mental health conditions benefit from being in work, and do better in health terms as a result. And so we need to bring mental health support into the workplace - to identify problems as they are developing, and help those who are in work to stay in work.

For this reason, I am delighted that as of today, thirteen Government departments have formally committed to the Time to Change initiative. Where organisations are able to reduce mental health stigma in the workplace and ensure that support is available to those who need it, there is clear evidence that staff absenteeism and job turnover decrease, with productivity improving. I have committed to trying to get every department signed up - and this is a good start.

Every organisation is different, so Time to Change doesn't set out a "one size fits all" template to follow. Rather, we are encouraging organisations to set out realistic action plans which they should genuinely be able to deliver. Simple steps like making information about mental health conditions available to employees, and talking about mental health in internal newsletters and magazines can make a real difference. Organisations can also make sure that staff (especially managers) have training at recognising symptoms of mental health conditions and providing mental health "first aid" to those who need support.

However, World Mental Health Day is not just about large organisations and government departments. Really, today is about what we can each do ourselves to end mental health stigma and support those around us who are suffering with mental health problems. The Time to Change website sets out some simple things you can do yourself. Take a look. And pass the message on: when it comes to mental health, there is nothing more important than simply talking about it.

Update: Norman Lamb, Tessa Munt and Nick Clegg supporting the Time to Change Pledge today.


* Norman Lamb MP is Liberal Democrat Minister of State at the Department of Health