England's Mental Health Experiment Is Working

By Victoria Kim 07/26/17

The ambitious mental health program has made a positive impact on treatment outcomes.

Woman talking to female psychologist

England’s free talk therapy program is going on 10 years running. Healthy Minds now screens almost one million people every year, offering support to Brits struggling with depression and anxiety, free of charge.

According to the New York Times, which calls Healthy Minds “the world’s most ambitious effort to treat depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses,” the program has had a significant impact on England’s approach to mental health since its inception in 2008. 

Since the program began, the number of British adults who receive some degree of mental health treatment has increased from 1 in 4 to 1 in 3. And while more people are seeking help, the stigma surrounding psychotherapy and mental illness is shrinking.

“You now actually hear young people say, ‘I might go and get some therapy for this,’” said Dr. Tim Kendall of the National Health Service (NHS). “You’d never, ever hear people in this country say that out in public before.”

Meanwhile, young British royals Prince William, Duchess Kate Middleton and Prince Harry are leading the Heads Together campaign, through which the trio is promoting the importance of taking care of one’s mental health as well as one’s physical health. 

“Talking to someone else is a positive and confident step to take, but for too long it has been a case of ‘Keep Quiet and Carry On,’” said Prince William. “As a result, too many people have suffered in silence for too long, and the effects of this can be devastating.”

A person calling the Healthy Minds service is screened by “psychological well-being practitioners” to determine whether the individual would benefit from phone therapy alone, or if they require more attention and should be sent to group or individual therapy.

Patients fill out questionnaires each week they receive treatment, and the NHS logs their results in a government database. This allows the NHS to track the program’s progress, and identify areas where it could improve. Using this approach has raised new patients’ recovery rate from 45% to 50% in the past few years.

“If someone has a broken leg, he or she immediately gets treatment,” says David Clark, a psychology professor at Oxford University who helped develop Healthy Minds. “If the person has a broken soul, they usually do not.”

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