Developing the evidence-base: public mental health

Public mental health takes a population approach to mental health. This improves the coverage, outcomes and coordination of the prevention of mental illness as well as mental wellbeing promotion. It aims to sustainably improve mental health for the population by working with a range of public, third sector, other organisations, local communities and individuals.

Having attended several events and meetings recently discussing the vast and growing evidence base around public mental health, there a few key thoughts for schools:

  1. Public Mental Health is a discipline with a strong evidence base

There are many highly qualified and skilled doctors and other professionals working in public health. Having gathered a life-time of experience seeing what happens when things are left too late, they are committed to generating evidence based support to strengthen mental health and prevent ill-health. There is a high potential for public mental health to have a significant and lasting impact on quality of life.

  1. Public mental health is a noble aim with big impact

The aim of creating a healthier population is something we can all aspire to contribute to. This will, in time, reduce the number of people requiring high need mental health support, reducing the incidents of pain endured as well as saving those scarce resources for those who need it most. But the greatest benefit is for the majority of people with mild and moderate needs, who are, in all honesty, unlikely to get access to any specialist service anyway. They will be better supported early on and have access to evidence-based interventions.

  1. The strongest evidence often points towards ‘no-cost’ and easily accessible activity

I met with Dr. Campion, the author of a recent extensive review of public mental health and asked him what surprised him from his research. His answer:

“Reading to your children for 10 minutes a day”

The peer-reviewed evidence base around this was very strong and the impact was long lasting, found to still exist into adulthood. Reading to your child for 10minutes a day: a solid, evidence based, life-lasting mental health intervention. Another example, promoting self-regulation improves self-esteem in the short and long term and reduces internalising behaviours.

  1. There is more to come

Public Mental health is a relatively new area of focus, so far attracting little funding or research activity. However, there is growing interest in this topic with recent funding calls from Comic Relief and Triumph (Transdisciplinary Research for the Improvement of Youth Mental Public Health), both of which I have been involved in. Increasingly, it is recognised that the need is to focus on building and developing this evidence base and sharing this practice and knowledge so that we can reach more children and young people before they reach crisis level. This bodes well for future work that will support schools in developing and implementing their mental health policies and activities.

Written by Dean Johnstone