Changing the conversation about health

Beyond Pills All Party Parliamentary Group calls for overhaul of mental health system

A new report released today by the Beyond Pills All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) is calling for a major overhaul of mental health care services in the UK.

The report, entitled Shifting the Balance Towards Social Interventions: A Call for an Overhaul of the Mental Health System, asks for nine major changes in current mental health services and endorses recent proposals put forward by World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations (UN).

These include additional provision of social interventions such as community-based mental health hubs and social prescribing, reforming the MHRA to improve drug regulation and implementing a UK Sunshine Act for financial transparency.

READ THE REPORT IN FULL HERE

The report also recommends integrating Social Emotional Learning (SEL) into the national curriculum, improving health professional training, funding nationwide deprescribing services (including a national helpline) and de-medicalising mental health language.

The Beyond Pills APPG aims to move UK healthcare beyond an over-reliance on pills by promoting social prescribing, lifestyle medicine, psychosocial interventions and safe deprescribing.

The report’s recommendations align with recent calls from the WHO and UN, which stress the importance of a holistic approach that prioritises psychosocial and community- based interventions over biomedical treatments. 

‘Mental ill health affects people from all backgrounds, from early years to the elderly, so addressing the crisis in the mental health care system concerns everyone,’ say the authors. 

The report concludes that ‘a paradigm shift away from the traditional biomedical model that has presided over poor clinical outcomes and the over medicating of distress, towards a more holistic, person-centred approach that more fully recognises and addresses the social, economic and psychological determinants of mental health.’

The current mental health system is marked by an over-reliance on psychiatric drugs, with nearly a quarter of all adults prescribed a psychiatric drug in any given year and soaring rates for children and young people. 

There is also a failure to provide effective social, community and relational approaches. This has led to persistently poor outcomes despite substantial research and investment over four decades.

Author, mental health campaigner and SANE ambassador, Rachel Kelly, pictured left, praised the report’s recommendations. Right: Lord Nigel Crisp, co-chair of the Beyond Pills APPG, said the report ‘points the way to a higher quality and more effective approach to mental health’ 

Alongside the suffering of millions of individuals, societal costs have spiralled. The total cost of poor mental health is estimated to be around £300 billion in England alone in 2022; this includes costs due to absenteeism and reduced quality of life as well as healthcare expenditure.

The report proposes six principles for mental health reform, including recognising the social and relational nature of most mental health issues, addressing social determinants of distress, promoting positive narratives to support recovery, using psychiatric drugs with caution and reducing over-prescribing.

Danny Kruger MP, who is chair of the Beyond Pills APPG, said of the report: ‘We have a mental health crisis in the UK and giving psychiatric drugs to nearly a quarter of our adult population
isn’t working.

‘We urgently need to invest in the social determinants of good mental health: stronger family and community relationships, activities that give people a sense of agency and belonging, and social rather than purely medical models of mental health treatment.’

Lord Nigel Crisp, co-chair of the Beyond Pills APPG, added: ‘This important report points the way to a higher quality and more effective approach to mental health which will improve the lives of millions of people and strengthen the UK economy.  It shows that existing policies are simply not working and proposes practical alternatives.’

The Beyond Pills APPG aims to move UK healthcare beyond an over-reliance on pills by promoting social prescribing, lifestyle medicine, psychosocial interventions and safe deprescribing

Other speakers at the event included former UN Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur for Health, Dainius Pūras, Unit Head of the WHO Policy, Law and Human Rights team, Michelle Funk and Sir
Norman Lamb, Chair of the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust.

Rachel Kelly, author, mental health campaigner and SANE ambassador, said the report’s recommendations would have a vital impact on the mental health of young people if implemented.

She told the College of Medicine website: ‘As someone who has had mental health problems myself, and who now works with young people who are struggling, I know that we need a new approach.

She continued: ‘Dishing out more medication isn’t working, yet the rate of prescribing for teenagers is soaring. My experience is that young people’s psychological difficulties are often an understandable response to life’s challenges, particularly relationship difficulties and growing up in a world of social media, exacerbated by loneliness and bullying.

‘Yet these are not essentially medical problems to be solved by strictly medical means: there’s so much
else we can offer young people, starting with teaching them (and their parents) more about their physiological and psychological health. When I look back at my own experience of anxiety and depression, I only wish that such a holistic, person-centred approach had been available.’

Find out more about the Beyond Pills campaign here