World Mental Health Day 2021

Deputy Chief Inspector of Hospitals and Lead for Mental Health, Jemima Burnage, reflects on the importance of World Mental Health Day and raising awareness of mental health inequalities.

The 10th of October marks the 29th annual World Mental Health Day, first recognised in 1992, and it is now celebrated worldwide with people coming together to raise awareness of mental health and the impact it has on people’s lives. The theme for this year set by the World Federation for Mental Health, is ‘Mental Health in an Unequal World’. Across the world — and within countries — mental health support differs hugely, often because of characteristics like race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, and the lack of respect for human rights. This needs to change.

Over the past eighteen months we have seen these inequalities highlighted and often exacerbated, with the pandemic impacting on people’s mental health more than ever, as highlighted in last year’s State of Care report. Access to mental health support should not be determined by who we are, how much money we have or where we live.

As the new Lead for Mental Health at CQC I am passionate about driving conversations around mental health inequalities through our work and supporting improvement in the sector. I have spent most of my career working in and leading mental health services, as well as the past 7 years working as Head of Inspection for Adult Social Care here at CQC, so I appreciate the unique nature of the world of mental health.

Earlier this year CQC published a new strategy which means our regulation will be more relevant to the way care is now delivered, more flexible to manage risk and uncertainty, and will allow us to respond in a quicker and more proportionate way as health and care continues to evolve. The strategy is set out under four themes — People and community, Smarter regulation, Safety through learning, and Accelerating improvement — and running through each theme are two core ambitions: assessing local systems, and tackling inequalities in health and care. Both of these ambitions are incredibly important in the mental health sector and are particularly poignant following the pandemic.

A focus on human rights has always been a driver behind my work, and I am determined that advancing mental health equalities will be kept at the forefront of our work while the organisation goes through this period of change. We are committed to our ambition of regulating to advance equality and protect people’s Human Rights and we will be working hard to help influence change.

Understanding why there is such variation is key to helping to drive change and reduce inequalities in health and social care. We are working with the Advancing Mental Health Equalities Taskforce (AMHE) — which includes the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and others — to deliver in a joined-up way on these commitments, as we recognise the need for everyone to have access to safer and better-quality care and will champion this in everything we do. As well as this we are looking at how we can focus on individuals’ protected characteristics as part of our role in monitoring the Mental Health Act, as well as how we collect both quantitative and qualitative data in relation to people’s characteristics and experience data which will tell us more about how people who are detained under the Mental Health Act feel about CQC and their care.

As well as looking at how we drive improvement in mental health externally, we are also championing the mental health of our colleagues to ensure they have the help and support to deliver on our important agenda. We have inclusive spaces for people to share their experiences and receive support, including our Disability Equality Network community, who are focused on ensuring that equality of outcomes for staff with disabilities including mental ill-health is central to our working practices. We are running a programme of events for World Mental Health Day to highlight different mental health experiences at work, support learning from others and encourage positive action. This is helping to inform our approach to developing a strong lived experience voice across our workforce which will strengthen the work we do to address mental health equality across the providers and systems we regulate.

I hope that this has given you a small insight into both the work that CQC is doing to support reducing mental health inequalities and also into my own passion for this area of work. This World Mental Health Day please take the opportunity to start a conversation about mental health, whether it’s about tackling mental health inequalities or just checking in on those around you.

If you are struggling, please ask for help.

Jemima Burnage

Interim Deputy Chief Inspector of Hospitals (Lead for Mental Health)

We make sure health and social care services provide people with safe, effective, compassionate, high-quality care and we encourage care services to improve.