Cinderella of the NHS
Finally, some welcome news in the world of mental health this month. A task force set up by the National Health Service to investigate services in this underfunded field, is demanding nothing less than their “transformation”. Its most shocking headline finding was that three quarters of people with mental health problems receive no help at all.
The review concluded that mental health should no longer be the “Cinderella” of the NHS and should be treated with the same urgency as physical illness; more people should have access to talking therapies; and fewer people should be sent miles from home for treatment.
In response, the government accepted the report and pledged to help more than 1m extra people facing mental health problems; said it would provide care 24 hours a day, seven days a week; and that it would invest in excess of £1bn annually by 2020.
A few weeks ago, David Cameron was the first serving UK prime minister to make a speech about mental health in Downing Street. He has already set out plans to improve care for people with eating disorders and for new mothers. And he responded to this report by saying “we have focused a lot on physical health and we haven’t as a country focused enough on mental health.”
As if that were not enough high-profile backing, the Duchess of Cambridge, who has made children’s mental health a focus of her charitable work, has guest edited an issue of the Huffington Post dedicated to the subject.
For those of us who have suffered depression, or have seen our spouses and children go through it, such encouraging announcements (and, we hope, real improvements) are desperately needed.
Globally, an estimated 350m adults are affected by depression. Lack of resources for care is a global problem — in developing counties up to 85 per cent of people with depression get no treatment.
My first depressive episode began in 1997. I was a newspaper reporter, a mother of two small children and married to a banker. We had demanding and exciting lives and I had been struggling to keep all the various balls in the air.
One night, I could not sleep. With my insomnia came alarming physical symptoms: my heart raced; I felt as if I was about to vomit; it seemed as if thousands of wasps were stinging the soft inside of my brain. I could not stop worrying.
My illness saw me hospitalised and unwell for six months. I suffered a second serious episode seven years later. I was unwell for a year. I learnt what a profoundly debilitating illness depression is, and that it can present with alarming physical symptoms which in my case made me suicidal, not because I did not have a good and rewarding life, but because of the physical pain.
It is key to recognise — as the NHS seems about to do- that our mental and physical health is intertwined and the treatment must be equally integrated.
I also learnt about stigma, chiefly my own. I told very few people I had suffered depression, assuming that admission of mental illness would not be career enhancing. It was only after the second episode that I came clean.
Since then, I have learnt how to stay calm and well. I run workshops to foster good mental health for companies and charities.
While I welcome the way the mental health is now receiving long overdue focus, we have all mounted a small peak only to see the North face of the Eiger in front of us. There are still huge problems in the way we fail to prioritise mental health. It receives a tiny proportion of the funding that physical health receives. A main funding body, the Medical Research Council, devotes just 3 per cent of its budget is spent on researching mental illness.
Stigma remains a massive problem, globally, especially for those who work in the professions and in the financial sector, where admission of any kind of mental illness is often seen as career limiting. And while the extra funding in England is welcome, it comes after years of cutbacks.
I am among the lucky ones who did get treated, and who has recovered. Let us hope that this announcement means that more of those who suffer will be as lucky as I have been.
Twitter: www.twitter.com/rachelkellynet The author is the writer of
Walking on Sunshine: 52 Small Steps to Happiness is available to order on Amazon here. She runs happiness workshops for Depression Alliance. For details of her next workshop, go to her website.
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