On the 1st October we had the first sustainability summit run by a medical royal college in the UK. However, people continue to think that sustainability remains the remit of politicians and self-styled hippy tech companies. “What has sustainability got to do with mental health care or psychiatrists and what is a sustainability summit anyway and why on earth is the RCPsych holding one of these??”
Soon the videos from all the talks at the sustainability summit will be on the RCPsych website if you want to find out more. The summit brought together psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, clinical leaders and academics. There was vibrant discussion about how to tackle these issues and which issue should take priority in the busy milieu of clinical practice. A big thanks goes to the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare for helping with the organising, running and hosting of the day!
Vanessa, CEO of RCPsych introduced the day then I provided an outline of sustainability and its relation to mental health. President of RCPsych, Simon Wessely gave his views on the constraints on mental health today and for the future. Professor Helen Berry, via video link from Australia, outlined the evidence for the mental health effects from climate change. Dr Judith Anderson, a consultant psychotherapist, discussed the issue of climate change denial and how mental health professionals who are experts in human defences such as denial, have a responsibility to help begin the difficult conversations about how to tackle the complex issue of climate change. The staff at the Greencare centre for those with personality disorder in Slough provided an excellent talk about their work and David Pencheon, director of the NHS Sustainable Development Unit brought the day to an end by hammering home the importance of sustainability for health care.
Sustainability for health care is a paradigm that creates a focus on constraining factors that could affect health in the future. The sustainability framework for understanding these factors is the triple bottom line, which includes economic, environmental and social factors. The fact that we are running out of money to fund the NHS is a major issue and ‘more of the same is not the answer’. Another major issue is the fact that climate change is currently having a significant effect on mental health globally and these effects will continue to increase over the next few decades and are starting to affect the UK more each year. Drought, cyclones, flooding and temperature rise can all negatively affect our wellbeing and exacerbate mental health conditions (see my previous blog for more details on this). Another issue is the manner in which society is changing with increasing digitalisation of our progressively sedentary lives, over population and hyper consumerism. “We have never moved around the world so much and we have never moved ourselves around so little!”
The RCPsych is leading the way in developing a conversation about how doctors can get involved and can help mitigate the effects of health care on the environment. Other Royal Colleges and all doctors need to advocate for a more widespread response to what the World Health Organisation have stated is the largest threat to human health in the 21st Century.
By Daniel Maughan
[Originally posted: 3.10.14 on sustainablehealthcare.co.uk]