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'Lack of mental health support ruins lives'


Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen plenty of news coverage on the A&E crisis, with ambulances queuing outside hospitals and patients crowded into waiting areas.

It’s seen as an outrage that people with a physical health need should have to wait - and of course it is. Yet in mental health there are metaphorical queues of ambulances awaiting treatment all the time, and not just in winter.

This government has made long-overdue promises about good and timely interventions. It has pledged that from April this year, many patients experiencing psychosis for the first time will start treatment within two weeks of referral.

At last week’s inaugural Future of Mental Health Nursing conference in London, Baroness Jolly told the audience of student nurses that “[if you are anxious and depressed] you will be guaranteed the treatment you need within six weeks - 18 weeks at an absolute maximum - just as if you are waiting for an operation on your hip”. She also said that those having a breakdown or thinking of harming themselves will receive expert care there and then, just as they would if they went into A&E with chest pains.

Let’s hope these promises are kept. But I am unsure waiting up to four and a half months for mental help is good enough. A hip joint may not deteriorate over that period, and the associated pain can be alleviated. But the mind is a different matter, and 18 weeks must feel like a lifetime to anyone in the depths of depression.

We need politicians, health professionals and wider society to recognise the importance of good mental health. The prejudice that exists about mental health must cease and treatment of it must be better understood and prioritised - after all, one in four of us will experience mental health problems in our lifetime.

At the conference, dementia awareness campaigner Tommy Whitelaw described the heartache of caring for his mum Joan when she was diagnosed with vascular dementia. Lack of NHS resources forced him to care for her alone, isolated and unsure how to meet her needs, until he finally gained support from a consultant and a district nurse, both of whom showed skill and compassion.

Many people’s lives are ruined - and ended - by a lack of mental health support. It’s time everyone recognised that good mental health services are just as important as those for physical health.


Jenni Middleton, editor Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimese


Readers' comments (6)

  • there are excellent mental healthcare models in other countries where the service is fully integrated and no distinctions are made between patients seeking these services or any other service within the system. what is wrong with the NHS and the attitudes of the British people? it seems the NHS is not leading by example and contributing to the divide, discrimination and stigmatisation which is an appalling and disgraceful situation letting patients, their families and the public down for no reason.

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  • Charlotte Peters Rock

    Re: "It has pledged that from April this year, many patients experiencing psychosis for the first time will start treatment within two weeks of referral."

    Two Weeks? Two weeks? Would you have to wait for two weeks with a broken leg? (And at least wit ha broken leg your mind would (if pain free) be capable of coping somehow.

    But when your mental state is psychotic, surely this is an emergency?

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  • I work in dementia care and we have a seen within two weeks of referral rule which we meet most of the time. Sometimes we don't because of too many referrals and not enough staff. Unfortunately this is becoming more common. It's alright for politicians to set targets as long as the resources to meet them are in place

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  • suicidal thoughts are an emergency

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  • If someone is standing in front of you with thoughts of life not worth living.... Come back in two weeks! just doesn't cut it! I think if the politicians did triage for a shift it might waken them up to the real world....
    People are in crisis 24/7, staff in A&E mental health services are seeing suicidal people daily and are just fire fighting! Shame on the government.. They have run Mental Health services into the ground and now trying to raise the phoenix from the ashes!

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  • Another good article by Jenni Middleton.

    I am going through the suffering , abuse , delay and cover ups the current mental health system subjects me to.

    How true are your words in your final paragraph " Many people's lives are ruined - and ended - by a lack of mental health support ... "

    15 years ago my life was ruined, I have since met many mental health patients who are now dead by suicide due to a lack of support - no one will listen or help, even medical records being falsified , and read of many others in my local papers - UNTIL RECENTLY WHEN ALL BAD MENTAL HEALTH STORIES OF SUICIDES BY PATIENTS HAVE STOPPED ?

    Maybe those in the establishment who fail to provide adequate services have now found a new way of covering up the truth ?

    As a regular reader and necessary user of whatdotheyknow , the truth of failings in mental health seen there up and down the country is a national disgrace, and it further concerns me where I heard many MPs a year of so back shouting for parity of esteem for mental health, but achieving nothing , now at election time we dont hear a word from them about mental health.

    My own story would rock the establishment if anyone dared to publish it !

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