MORE focus must be placed on mental wellbeing in Oxfordshire as authorities look for ways to ease the burden being placed on health services.

In 2016/17, 12,000 Oxfordshire residents were referred to mental health services and seen at least once, – an increase of around 2,100 (22 per cent) since 2011/12.

In his 11th annual report, public health director Dr Jonathan McWilliam said he wanted to ‘shine the spotlight’ on the ‘major public health issue’, claiming that mental health was often forgotten when looking at ways to improve physical health.

He said: “It’s become a new factor when planning any service.

“The principle is that we intertwine mental health and physical health together so that you think about both at the same time.”

The report specifically highlights mental health referrals in the 15 to 19-year-old age group which are by far the highest, as more youngsters begin to recognise the signs of poor mental health and become more willing to discuss their problems with others.

The figure has risen significantly for the past three years and now stands at just above the national average.

Dr McWilliam says in the report: “The reality is that we are dealing with is a new phenomenon – children and young people are coming forward in increasing numbers seeking help with emotional distress.

“This is a good development, the question is how should services cope?”

At the other end of the scale, there around 12,400 men and 18,700 women in Oxfordshire suffering from depression.

And as the county’s health services continue to struggle with a growing and ageing population as well as rising rates of obesity, Dr McWilliam called for a more cohesive approach to improving mental wellbeing to help tackle this ‘cocktail’ of factors.

He said: “What I really wanted to do was turn the spotlight on mental wellbeing this year.

“We all know about physical health but we tend to forget about our mental health which is just as important.

“If you’re physically healthy you tend to be mentally healthy, the two go hand in hand.

“There are three keys to tackling this: we should continue to work in partnership, we should continue to prevent disease rather than wait for it to happen and we should continue to target those that would benefit the most.

“We have more houses coming in Oxfordshire which means more people, more children; we know the population is ageing, we know people are getting more obese which leads to more disease, we know its difficulties in getting a workforce.

“That all means all organisations need to work together like they have been doing over the last year, and it means we need to find solutions such as the 'healthy new towns' in Bicester and Barton and push those further.”

Oxfordshire Clinical Commissioning Group said earlier this month it was currently reviewing its spending on mental health with services under increasing pressure.

The area receives the lowest funding per head of any CCG in the country and since there is a significant demand for acute services as well, resources for mental health and community services are inevitably limited.