It is a "scandal" that patients with mental health problems have no standardised maximum waiting times for treatment , experts have said.
While people with most physical problems can expect to start treatment within 18 weeks, m any mental health patients are forced to endure "unacceptable waits" for care, according to a group of leading mental health organisations.
Mental health services should be able to help people soon after problems are spotted to prevent issues from getting worse but they are often left to "pick up the pieces " after patients have been forced to wait for care for too long, they said.
The group, which includes Rethink Mental Illness, Centre for Mental Health, Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Network, Mind and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, have set out a series of recommendations for the next Government to improve care for the millions of people suffering from mental health issues.
They said that m ental health must be a "top priority" and called for the introduction of maximum waiting times for patients seeking treatment.
Their report setting out the priorities states: "We should not have to wait any longer for access to treatment for a mental health problem than we do for a physical health problem. Many people are experiencing unacceptable waits to access talking treatments, and struggle to access appropriate care in a crisis.
" We should be intervening earlier to prevent mental health problems getting worse, but mental health services are too often left to pick up the pieces too late.
"We call on the next Government to mandate the creation and delivery of a clear, transparent programme to introducing maximum waiting times to mental health services. This will help to ensure that people have timely access to essential mental health services such as early intervention in psychosis, talking therapies and crisis care."
The organisations also set out a series of other priorities for the next Government to address including the "funding inequality" between mental and physical health services.
Mental health accounts for 23% of the "disease burden" in England but gets just 13% of the NHS budget, they said. Meanwhile demand for services is rising and it has been predicted that by 2030 there will be around two million more adults in the UK with mental health problems than there are today.
They also called for women to have better support during pregnancy, children to be taught about mental health issues in schools and better training for teachers and school nurses.
Mark Winstanley, chief executive of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, said: "Mental health must be a top priority for any new administration in 2015.
"It's a scandal that people with mental illness still have no legal right to treatment and there are no maximum waiting times. People are waiting months, even years for the most basic care and many are getting no support at all. Successive Governments have failed to seriously tackle this issue, which impacts individual lives, the economy and society at large.
"We call upon parties, across the political spectrum, to commit to the simple, practical and affordable actions outlined in our manifesto and improve the lives of millions of people affected by mental illness in Britain."
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Jenny Edwards added:"We know that half of all life time mental health problems begin by the age of 14 - therefore we must intervene early to protect and promote children's mental health and well-being.
"We are asking the next Government to mandate all schools to put mental health and well-being on the school curriculum and for universal access to mental health support for the one in 10 women who experience mental health difficulties during and after pregnancy.
"Supporting mental health and resilience from the very earliest days of life is critical if we're going to address the mental health of the whole nation."