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
firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on Twitter @nursingtimese