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Shaping national mental health policy 

Shaping national mental health policy
Shaping national mental health policy
Oxford Textbook of Community Mental Health

Harvey Whiteford


From the perspective of those at the service delivery coalface, national mental health policy often seems a remote activity unrelated to their daily responsibilities. The concept of national policy can be vague and how it is formed opaque. The time taken from the beginnings of policy formulation to adoption and implementation can seem extraordinarily long. When national policy does become relevant it is often because it is driving change that the clinician or service manager finds confronting and difficult. It is therefore easy to be cynical about government policy, but most of us still want and expect explicit national mental health policy, the implementation of which drives improved services for people with mental illness and their families. For the creation of good policy, those working outside of government bureaucracies need to better understand, and be able to exert influence on, the policy-making process.

The aim of this chapter is to describe the policy development cycle and the factors that shape national mental health policy. A good understanding of these should enhance the capacity of service providers and others to influence the content and effectiveness of mental health policy. At the outset it is important to provide a caveat. This chapter is most relevant to countries that operate a democratic system of government. While many of the concepts discussed in the chapter will apply to policy development in any country with an organized system of government, the assumptions that underpin the policy cycle described in the chapter are most applicable in a democratically governed society.

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