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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness


Putting mental health at the heart of the public health agenda

Public Mental Health

Professor Kamaldeep Bhui, formerly college lead for public mental health


Based on the UK Faculty of Public Health’s definitions and scope of public health and adapting these, the following are the components of Public Mental Health.

Public mental health can be defined as:

The science and art of promoting and protecting mental capital, mental health, emotional wellbeing and preventing mental illness; and prolonging life and the quality of life through the organised efforts of society.


It is population based and

  • emphasises collective responsibility for mental health, its protection and prevention of mental distress and disorders
  • recognises the key role of the state, linked to a concern for the underlying socio-economic and wider determinants of mental and physical and emotional health and well being, as well as mental disorders
  • emphasises partnerships with all those who contribute to the health and wellbeing of the population.

Three key domains of public mental health practice:


Health Improvement

  • Inequalities
  • Education
  • Housing
  • Employment
  • Family/community
  • Lifestyles
  • Surveillance and monitoring of specific diseases and risk factors

Improving services

  • Clinical effectiveness
  • Efficiency
  • Service planning
  • Audit and evaluation
  • Clinical governance
  • Equity

Health Protection

Parity of physical and mental health protection including attention to

*  Infectious, endocrine and cardiovascular and respiratory diseases

*  Nutrition and healthy lifestyles

*  Child protection and prevention of violence and abuse

*  Managing work stress and occupational hazards

*  Emergency responses to disaster and conflict

*  Environmental health hazards including global warming

*  Building connected communities including social capital and social networks

*  Participating in society and sharing in the political and social and economic successes and crime prevention


The nine key areas for public health practice:

The Faculty's core values are that public health practice should be:

•   equitable

•   empowering

•   effective

•   evidence-based

•   fair

•   inclusive


In light of these core values, and the three domains of public health practice, we have agreed nine key areas for public health practice.


These nine areas are at the basis of all standards of training and practice that the Faculty develops.

The nine key areas are:

•   Surveillance and assessment of the population's health and wellbeing

•   Assessing the evidence of effectiveness of health and healthcare interventions, programmes and services

•   Policy and strategy development and implementation

•   Strategic leadership and collaborative working for health

•   Health Improvement

•   Health Protection

•   Health and Social Service Quality

•   Public Health Intelligence

•   Academic Public Health



Public mental health and well-being

There is a clear association between well-being, good mental health and improved outcomes for people of all ages and social classes.

Why does it matter?

Poor mental health and well-being can have an impact on every area of a person’s life; physical health, education, employment, family, relationships, and the effects can last a lifetime.  It plays an important part of in contributing to and maintaining health and social inequalities.


Good mental health and well-being are associated with improved outcomes for individuals including longevity, physical health, social connectedness, educational achievement, criminality, maintaining a home, employment status and productivity.


Mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness.  People recovering from mental health conditions can have a positive state of well-being, and while those who do not have a mental health condition may experience low levels of well-being.

In the UK, mental illness accounts for over 20% of the total burden of disease; more than cardiovascular disease and cancer.


The annual wider economic costs of mental health problems in the UK at £110 billion a year.


What can we do?

Although future costs of mental illness will double in real terms over the next 20 years, some of this cost could be reduced by greater focus on whole-population mental health promotion and prevention, alongside early diagnosis and intervention.

Use a life course approach to ensure a positive start in life and healthy adult and older years.

Build strength, safety and resilience: address inequalities and ensure safety and security at individual, relationship, community and environmental levels.

Develop sustainable, connected communities: create socially inclusive communities that promote social networks and environmental engagement.

Integrate physical and mental health, reduce health-risk behaviour and promote physical activity.

Promote purpose and participation to enhance positive well-being through a balance of physical and mental activity, relaxation, generating a positive outlook, creativity and purposeful community.