Over the past few years, conversations about mental health issues have grown in popularity. Whilst it is still a touchy and sensitive topic, most of us no longer approach having a psychological problem as a taboo subject. More importantly, many people have stepped forward, willing to discuss their own issues with mental health, and seek the help and support needed to get better.
Recently, Theresa May spoke out about her own invested interest in providing more funding for mental health sectors; something that psychologists, crisis nurses and hospitals alike rejoiced in. However, as BBC’s Panorama exclusive revealed a few days ago, many trusts are not seeing the money she’s promised.
The show aired on the 6th of February, and came armed with alarming figures. The number of unexpected deaths (this includes suicide and accidental overdose) reported by mental health trusts has increased by nearly 50 per cent in three years. My own area, the Norfolk and Suffolk Trust, also became the first one to be placed into special measures, as it was deemed inadequate for psychological patient care.
Although the trust is now out of special measures, problems still persist. The programme interviewed an array of nurses and doctors (some remaining anonymous out of fear of job loss), that revealed the ‘mental health crisis’ is at an all-time high. Beds are no longer available, homeless initiatives have been abandoned, and many professionals are being laid-off in favour of cheaper, less experienced staff.
I myself have suffered with my own share of mental health problems, and have sought medical help in the past. Whilst I was nowhere nearly as affected as some of the people mentioned in the documentary, it worried me that should I relapse, the services I would need would no longer be there. One family told the tragic story of how it took numerous hospital visits (from when their daughter self-harmed) and pleading with nurses and doctors, just to get their daughter a bed in a psychiatric ward. It took pushing this family to breaking point to get them noticed. This shouldn’t be the case.
Sadly though, these cuts and decreases in community care are likely to keep rising. Despite May’s promises, the whole of the NHS is struggling. Recent figures show that a record number of people are waiting over 12 hours in A&E alone. One doctor revealed that he has been in board meetings where talks of what needs to go next year are already circulating. However, ministers are insisting that huge sums of money are being pumped into the NHS and especially towards mental health, in an attempt to raise standards. So where is it all going?
Downsizing areas like mental health, simply puts more pressure on an already at capacity A&E waiting rooms. Before, mental health crisis teams were quick to respond and effective. Now, people have nowhere to go but to A&E. There, they are often patched up and sent home, with little follow-up as to what is really going on and the kind of further help they need. Not that this is the fault of doctors or nurses; many haven’t been trained in mental health areas and are working under extreme amounts of pressure as it is. To me, it seems baffling that we should send someone who has, for example, broken their leg, to the same place as someone who has cut themselves because they are suicidal. We need a separate, effective solution for these vulnerable people when they need the most help.
Even day-to-day psychological problems are rarely getting the treatment they need. It took me numerous visits to the doctors to finally get prescribed anti-depressants. Before, I had simply been given leaflets and told to look up mindfulness and other self-help methods. Things like CBT or counselling weren’t even offered to me; I had to go on a 100-plus waiting list at my university to finally see a counsellor. In comparison to our treatments for life-threatening illnesses, our methods for treating psychological problems seem rather primitive and lacking. Unfortunately, the only way in which these methods will advance is through funding, which at the moment seems very slim.
Mental health problems make up around a quarter of our medical problems, yet receive only 11 per cent of the funding. It seems that whilst the higher powers have become more willing to talk about such issues, they are still reluctant to fund them. Oddly, psychological problems are rarely seen as life-threatening or warranting an immediate solution. However, as the recent figures show, all too often, this is not the case. It’s now 2017 … how many more lives will we have to lose before the Government takes the problem of mental health seriously?