I’m going to focus on a topic that has been in the news this week-Theresa May’s pledge to tackle mental illness. Her pledge included seven topics:
· Every secondary school will be offered mental health first aid training.
· Trials on strengthening links between schools and NHS specialist staff, including a review of children and adolescent services across the country, led by the Care Quality Commission
· Appointing mental health campaigner Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer, chief executive of the charity Mind, to lead a review on improving support in the workplace
· Employers will be given additional training in supporting staff who need to take time off
· More focus on community care, with an extra £15m towards this
· Expanding online services to allow symptom checks before getting a face-to-face appointment
· A review of the ‘health debt form’, under which patients are charged up to £300 by a GP for documentation to prove they have mental health issues.
Whilst I am pleased mental illness is being looked at and paid some attention, I am not convinced that the majority of these measures will be effective.
Firstly, I think too much serious damage has already been done, and that for repair there will be a need for much more intense input. With eating disorders, the shortage of beds is so vast that patients are now being sent to Scotland…which is also now reaching maximum capacity. And because investment into mental health and eating disorders has been so poor, more and more sufferers have become increasingly ill, requiring the need for hospitalisation, but with the NHS lacking the facilities for this. 5000 mental health beds have been cut since 2010. To recover this situation even slightly, a lot LOT more needs to be done.
Secondly, the focus on community care was intended to provide things like crisis cafes and other alternatives to hospital visits. However, most people with mental illness are withdrawn and do not seek help, trying to just get by unnoticed. They are most unlikely to voluntarily walk into a room and declare they need help. Eating disorders are very secretive and sufferers generally will not stop unless they are forced to do so (or die). When in the grips of anorexia, it is practically impossible to surrender. Asking for help is not an option. So, I do not see that these types of facilities are going to be effective.
I agree that community care does need to be improved and this would ease demand for inpatient beds. As I have mentioned in my previous blogs, I do believe that greater use of Community Treatment Orders (a form of Sectionning that allows patients to live in the community) could play a vital role in enabling more patients to live in the community successfully and reduce demand for inpatient admission. My experience of being on a CTO has been very positive and it is through the CTO that I have started to rebuild my life and am now looking toward recovery. CTO’s have a lot of potential and this should be the key aspect of community care that is invested in, rather than pop up cafes.
The main focus of Theresa May’s pledge was helping and improving mental health services for children and adolescents. Expecting already stretched and overworked teachers to begin training so they can attend to pupils with mental health issues is not only adding to their stress and workload but is also probably out of their remit. Doctors and psychiatrists train for years to become specialists in mental health to help treat patients. The training offered to teachers will be nowhere near adequate to enable them to manage a child’s mental health issues…and they shouldn’t be expected to. Furthermore, as I likened to earlier, people suffering with mental illness can be very adept at disguising their problems and are not often ones to reach out for help. I very much doubt that a teacher, with everything else going on in their jobs on a daily basis, will have the skills and astuteness to identify those suffering with mental illness when in many cases, not even professionals are able to.
Also, whilst I am not de-valuing the importance of children’s mental health, I do not think it is fair to focus more energy on that rather than adult mental health. In my opinion, any life is equally important regardless of age. Suffering from mental illness as an adult is just as worthy of requiring help and treatment as that of a child. I do not think one should be prioritised over another.
Finally, the main issue with mental health services at the moment is lack of funding. There simply is not enough money for staff to do their jobs effectively and for sufferers to get the help and treatment they need. And apart from offering £15m for community care (which will result in crisis cafes), Theresa May is not proposing to supply any more money to mental health. And basically, without more money, nothing is going to change. The NHS is falling and mental health services are going to continue to rapidly deteriorate. The potential of CTO’s (particularly for eating disorders) cannot be overestimated and surely, with mental health services in such a shocking state, these should be given a go?