Academics call for sustainable mental healthcare

A sustainable approach to healthcare can provide an answer to some of the current challenges in mental health according to a new report published today by the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The launch coincides with NHS Sustainability Day, a pivotal day in a sustained campaign, providing a focus for organisations to participate in initiating or continuing to achieve better sustainability practice. The initiative has attracted senior level endorsement within the NHS and from Government.

Climate change represents an unprecedented threat to human health and survival, and its effect on mental health could be profound. Mental health services will therefore need to be able to respond to potential increases in demand efficiently and responsibly, without adding to the problems that actually underlie climate change.

The NHS is committed to sustainable practices, and there is currently a requirement for all NHS organisations to reduce their carbon footprint by 80% within the next three decades. As buildings and energy-use only account for 17%, this will necessarily involve a significant degree of change in clinical processes.

A sustainable mental healthcare system will therefore need to provide high value care in spite of environmental, economic and social constraints. The aims must be to:

  • Prevent mental illness
  • Empower patients, staff and carers to manage their mental health
  • Eliminate wasteful activity
  • Make use of low-carbon alternatives

By adopting this approach, sustainability within mental health will improve the mental health of the population, reduce disease burden and minimise use of healthcare services. By focusing on developing healthy communities and prioritising preventive strategies, a model of this kind will balance the social, environmental and economic demands within healthcare settings.

Lead author, Daniel Maughan, Royal College of Psychiatrists Sustainability Fellow, said:

“A step change in culture and practice is needed, one in which psychiatrists become critical assessors of the resources they use on a daily basis to determine whether they are bringing benefit to the patient and value to the system.

“Sustainable psychiatrists need to develop a further role of stewardship, not only of the resources they are using but of the NHS as a whole and the effects that the NHS has at large.

“Reducing over-medication, adopting a recovery approach, exploiting the therapeutic value of natural settings and nurturing support networks can all improve patient care while reducing economic and environmental costs.”

Produced with the support of the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, the report lays the foundation for developing sustainable practices in mental health in the UK.

Daniel continues:

“Sustainability is a new concept for psychiatry. This paper explains how embedding the principles of sustainable healthcare can lead to services that are more person-centred and fit for the future. It provides an account of the ‘carbon hotspots’ in mental health and explains what we need to do to improve upon these aspects of patient care.”