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Guest blog from Andy Bell, Deputy Chief Executive at Centre for Mental Health and member of the Expert Advisory Group to the Taskforce on Multiple Conditions.

It is increasingly accepted that separating body and mind, or mental and physical health, doesn’t work. Growing numbers of people living with long-term physical conditions are seeking (and expecting) help for their mental health too. Having a long-term condition doubles your risk of having a mental health problem, and having multiple physical illnesses makes it more and more likely, with increasingly serious and life-threatening consequences.

This is now widely recognised and many organisations working in ‘physical’ health have campaigns, resources and services dedicated to supporting the emotional health of people with long-term conditions.

At the same time, we also know that having a long-term mental illness is a major risk factor for poor physical health and almost all long-term conditions. Data published last year by Public Health England reported that premature mortality (dying before the age of 75) among people with a severe mental illness was some 3.7 times higher than the general population. Life expectancy is about 17 years shorter if you have a psychosis: almost two decades less than average.

For people living with a mental illness and their families, these statistics are more than just numbers. They predict a life of chronic pain, significantly limited mobility and early death. And this is happening at an astoundingly young age: data from GP records has shown that people with a severe mental illness are developing multiple physical conditions in their teens and twenties.

Two years ago, the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges published a report on what should be done to tackle this inequality. It recognised that while there were some very promising local initiatives to make a difference, there was a need to concerted action nationwide to bring about change.

Equally Well UK seeks to provide that national level coordination of effort: to support those trying to make a change, to spread good practice, share research and raise our sights about what can be done. Based on the Equally Well collaborative that has been running for four years in New Zealand, Equally Well UK is bringing together organisations here that have a part to play in supporting the physical health of people with a mental illness.

So far more than 50 organisations have joined Equally Well UK. Each has made a pledge for how they will play their part in reducing the health gap, and together we will create a nationwide learning network across sectors that seeks to bring about the scale of change we need.

Equally Well comes with three essential principles. The first is that no one should experience poorer physical health, or less good care, just because they have a mental illness. The second is that everything we do will be co-produced between people with lived and professional expertise: there will be ‘nothing about us without us’. And the third is that there is knowledge and experience across the country that we can tap into and share in order to help to improve support nationwide.

People with mental health difficulties need to be able to access equally good health support wherever and whenever they need it, from GP surgeries, stop smoking and cancer screening services to dentistry, A&E and oncology. For people living with multiple long-term conditions, the importance of taking a whole person approach cannot be overstated. We hope that over the next ten years this will happen. Join us in being a part of the change nationwide.

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