A great deal of discussion on Twitter this evening during Channel 4’s launch of the ‘4GoesMad’ season, starting with Ruby Wax’s ‘Mad Confessions’.
Aimed at raising awareness in order to end mental health stigma, it can only be a positive thing that 4 are running this series of programmes about this topic – although the choice of title does little to achieve their aims. Although humanising sufferers will go a long way towards demystifying a very complex area – mental health sufferers and their respective needs are incredibly diverse – there needs to be some focus on where the services are coming from and how they are funded. The current spate of old-school Tory cuts have decimated many parts of the NHS, and mental health services have been hit hard. Demanding that trusts save hundreds of thousands of pounds in a sector that spends 75% of its budget on staffing is the main problem here, not identifying need which sadly is all too apparent. Providing therapies that are desperately needed, particularly in secure services where staffing levels are always going to have to be higher, is becoming more and more difficult as staff struggle to cover patients’ basic needs let alone providing staff to escort inpatients to therapy groups and activities/appointments outside of the units which are vital to allow reintegration into the outside world.
As usual arts therapies have gone first (in a pinch anything arts-based is first against the wall) and various consultations are underway in Trusts across the country, desperately looking for things to cut (Psychology and Occupational Therapy posts are currently in jeopardy). When the primary focus is financial by necessity, as the alternative is having Trusts broken up and patients sent further afield to have treatment, it is no great surprise that many of those Tweeting about the subject of mental health this evening were complaining about lack of access to outpatient services and treatments like CBT and Talking Therapies which have exponentially increasing waiting lists. Fantastic charities such as Mind are having their funding slashed, alongside Rape Crisis and various shelters who often provide pathways to services. By their own admission many GPs are ill-equipped to deal with mental health problems, and as a result are very likely to oversubscribe anti-depressants and anxiety pills rather than referring sufferers to counselling and therapies that might be able to help get to the root cause of the illness and offer treatment rather than the sticking plaster of medication.
During a recession, with many people joining the long-term unemployed and suffering from stress and depression due to financial worries, the numbers of people needing access to services will only increase. Now is the time for an investment in mental health services so that people can gain treatment and find coping strategies quicker. If one in four people suffer from mental ill health in their life, that will include many MPs or members of their family so it is incredibly short-sighted of them to ignore the huge chasm in services that it opening up ready to swallow a large number of people whose lives and that of their families, friends and co-workers could be improved dramatically if only the services were available and accessible. Mental illness should not be a life sentence.
Regardless of its shortcomings, tonight’s programme has certainly provoked debate about the subject, which can only be a positive outcome. Literally hundreds of Tweets have already been posted and as the season lasts all week hopefully that discussion will continue and encourage those who know little about the subject to ask questions and educate themselves. It may also empower those who are scared to disclose their mental health challenges to others to do so or find those they can talk about it with and therefore gain more support. The stigma surrounding mental health sadly continues, but it is only by talking about the realities of the illness that attitude can be changed and tonight’s foray was definitely a step in the right direction.