Thank you for being here and for those who will be presenting today, particularly those who are going to share some very personal stories.

It isn’t news to any of us that mental health problems are on the rise

None of us can be unaffected by this. Indeed that is why with almost no notice you have all made space in your busy diaries to be here today.

There are many here much better informed than me but it is not hard to see that this is one of the most pressing challenges facing us all today – in both my personal and public life I see the impact that mental health – poor mental health that is – can have.

From days off work lost to stress and depression right through to the ultimate tragedy when someone feels that they have no option but to take their own life and the awful devastation that this leaves behind.

We know from The Mental Health Foundation’s 2016 report Fundamental Facts about Mental Health:

Every week, one in six adults experiences symptoms of a common mental health problem, such as anxiety or depression.

  • One in five adults has considered taking their own life at some point.
  • Nearly half of adults believe that, in their lifetime, they have had a diagnosable mental health problem, yet only a third have received a diagnosis.
  • Nationally, the biggest killer of women in the first year after giving birth is suicide
  • The biggest killer of young men in this country is suicide. This week a young man known to me, in a rural part of West Berkshire, has taken his life leaving his loved ones devastated.
  • Here in Berkshire, the number of suicides by people already in contact with MH services almost doubled in the year to April 2016

Stats From the Mental Health Foundation 

  • In 2015, common mental health problems (eg anxiety, depression and stress) and more serious mental health problems were the third most important cause of sick leave.
  • In 2015, mental-health-related issues were found to lead to approximately 17.6 million days’ sick leave, or 12.7% of the total sick days taken in the UK.
  • In 2015, an estimated 93,100 people were out of the labour force because they were caring for someone with a mental health problem.
  • A further 27,800 people were working reduced hours in order to care for someone with a mental health problem.
  • It has been estimated that the cost to UK GDP of workers either leaving the workforce entirely, or going part time in order to care for someone with a mental health problem, was £5.4 billion in 2015, with over 91% of this amount being due to those leaving the labour force entirely.
  • According to calculations by Oxford Economics, it is estimated that the UK GDP in 2015 could have been over £25 billion higher than what it was if not for the economic consequences of mental health problems to both individuals and businesses.
  • The 2013 Chief Medical Officer’s report estimated that the wider costs of mental health problems to the UK economy are £70–100 billion per year – 4.5% of gross domestic product (GDP). However, estimating this figure is very complex and an earlier study carried out by Centre for Mental Health found that, taking into account reduced quality of life, the annual costs in England alone were £105.2 billion.

This is a massive problem on both an emotional and economic level.

Many mental health problems are preventable – with better awareness and earlier intervention. The Mental Health Foundation is calling for a ‘prevention revolution’ in thinking about mental health – where help is more clearly and easily available to reduce the incidence of people developing mental health problems and to support effective and long term recovery.

More people are affected by mental health problems than any other health problem and the numbers are predicted to rise. And of course as we all know – poor mental health increases poor physical health. Dealing better with the former is bound to have a positive knock-on effect on the latter – saving the sufferer much anguish and saving valuable time and money for hard-pressed NHS services.

So how do we do it?

I am aware from cases that come to my surgeries that ignorance, shame and isolation make mental health illness far, far harder to cope with. Using all our networks to connect people – in the work place, in the media, in schools and colleges, at the gym, the school gate, with our neighbours and our families – we can get people talking about this – reducing the stigma – bringing this issue out into the open – giving people ‘permission’ to talk about their problems sooner – helping them access the help and support they need – building happier and more resilient communities.

Great work has been done by celebrities and those in public life. I hugely admire people like Stephen Fry and Alastair Campbell for their courage in facing up to their own mental health problems and I have seen huge advances in Parliament as some of my colleagues have been open about mental health conditions they face. This in turn, is felt across the 10,000 people who work on the Parliamentary estate.

The aim of Brighter Berkshire is to bring us together to work to change the culture around mental health – to encourage that ‘big conversation’ and drive it up the agenda not just as far as the statutory agencies are concerned but out there in the community. And also to spread the word about the resources that are available already and to share good practice.

This is all about networking and working together and this is why we are all here today – to commit to making a difference to mental health in Berkshire over the next 12 months.

There is great commitment to Brighter Berkshire from all my Berkshire colleagues from Fiona McTaggart in the east to here in the west. The Prime Minister is also very supportive and wants to be involved in such a good endeavour from her Maidenhead constituency.

The response to today has been fantastic and I would like to pay tribute to Ali who set this ball rolling. Thank you too to all of you. Many of you have come with ideas to make this happen and others who could not be here today have made commitments to support it in other ways. I look forward to hearing more about your plans and, I hope, playing a small part in getting out there and spreading the word.