About public mental health

Find out more about public mental health and the College's work in this area. Access the College's public mental health publications and resources from other organisations.

Key elements of public mental health include:

  • Population approach: To sustainably and equitably improve the level and distribution of mental ill-health and wellbeing in society
  • Addresses the implementation gap: Supports improved implementation of effective interventions to treat mental disorders, prevent associated impacts, prevent mental disorder, and promote mental wellbeing and resilience.
  • Targets inequalities and higher risk groups: Takes targeted approaches to prevent widening of inequalities for groups at increased risk of mental disorder, poor mental wellbeing and/or reduced access to interventions.
  • Coordinated approaches: Recognises the need for coordinated and intersectoral approaches between providers of different types of interventions including social, educational, workplace, health, economic and policy.
  • Involvement of people and organisations: Involves people with experience of mental disorder and their carers, communities, providers, commissioners, policymakers and organisations (public, non-profit and for-profit institutions) in the development and implementation of evidence-based public mental health interventions.

The College has undertaken a number of public mental health activities over the last 10 years.

From 2014, RCPsych approached rising premature mortality of people with serious mental illness (SMI) by:

  • building key partnerships to change policy
  • raising awareness among psychiatrists, with parallel work to incorporate evidence into health professionals’ curricula.

This led to the following:

Smoking-related work

  • Collaboration with ASH (Action on Smoking for Health) and 27 other partners in The Stolen Years report. Our mental health and smoking partnership continues, with a consensus request to raise the legal age of purchase to 21.
  • A College report on prescribing vaping and varenicline to people with serious mental illness who smoke.
  • Membership of key NHS and public health groups to reduce smoking rates with multilevel intervention: staff training, electronic referrals, liberal vaping policies and changing CQC priorities curricula.

Alcohol-related work

  • RCPsych advocating for minimum unit pricing for alcohol, as implemented in Scotland and Ireland; this was consistently raised with Public Health England over the past decade.

Obesity-related work

  • RCPsych joined the Obesity Health Alliance to successfully lobby the UK government for a sugary drinks tax and a ban on junk food advertising pre-watershed. This advocacy is balanced by working closely with the Eating Disorders Faculty to reduce unintended harms.
  • Ongoing work with Equally Well UK to promote healthy weight management – not least obesogenic prescribing within obesogenic environments.
  • Working with the Liaison Faculty to identify ‘postcode prescribing’ in treatments offered to patients with serious mental illness who become obese: we identified inequalities in the pathways to obesity and the treatments offered (medications/bariatric surgery).

Other work

  • Identifying the main driver of premature deaths in people with mental disorders as poverty-inequality in a special edition of BJPsych Bulletin in October 2020. Articles on smoking, homelessness, benefits and so on are open access.
  • Grant applications to identify implementable interventions with national research coalition, Closing the Gap.
  • Working for curriculum changes at medical school and postgraduate level to improve the content on nutrition within a personalised medicine framework.


Smoking is the single largest cause of preventable death in the UK. People with mental disorder smoke at much higher rates and therefore experience disproportionate smoking related harm. These publications include guidance to support smoking cessation in those with mental disorder. Primary care and pharmacy guidance are currently being updated.

Public mental health training resources

Other organisations have carried out excellent work in public mental health over the years, and we encourage you to visit their websites for more information.

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