Running in Circles
The Public Experience of Mental Health Services in the UK
Mental health is a rising issue in the UK, yet the funding for this specific sector of the national health service is lacking. Though the lack of funding needs to be addressed, there is a more daunting issue that's not being spoken about.
A worrying amount of mental health workers appear to be lacking the empathy and care needed for such positions. People's experiences differ depending on the district they reside within, but a concerning amount from many locations, reported feeling that they were not treated with even the basic attention and care that should be provided.
Many people have contacted me with what may be described as 'horror stories' of their experiences. All of those I will mention will remain anonymous, to protect the privacy and well being of those who were so brave to share their stories.
One individual, who currently resides in King Lynn, Norfolk, spoke of losing a young daughter, and attempting suicide in result of that trauma. The local hospital performed a limited examination upon arrival, resulting in the patient being told to 'sleep it off.' She was left unattended for several hours, within those hours she was vomiting and blacking out, which the hospital staff were alerted about, yet she was not attended to. The most vital of after care in this case was not initiated, the crisis team were not called. She referred herself in the end, receiving a call from the team, but no follow up.
Thankfully this individual is still with us, though the help received has discouraged her from asking for help again.
In many of these cases people have stated that the mental health system has put more of a strain on their condition and created more anxieties. The system that claims to help citizens suffering with mental health conditions does quite the opposite in many situations.
Another person from my own town of Colchester in Essex recalled a doctor telling her "you can't have depression, you go to too many concerts." A concerning statement from someone who should know the basics of the condition. Music is one of the main things that actually help people with mental health, live music is no different, and it encourages those who struggle to leave home to venture out.
Someone currently living in Swansea, who has been dealing with the mental health system since the age of twelve, said she received counseling for around a year, before being told the NHS could no longer help, as the case was 'too severe,' though in a later assessment she was told "you're just sad today." She was not provided with information or another service that may help moving forward once discharged. While in the hospital, after an attempt on her life, she was told that the help offered was previously declined, when in fact it was never offered. The overall opinion of the services she received was '"In all, my experience with the NHS and mental health services has been absolutely sh*t."
On a brighter note, someone living close to London stated that she received efficient service, attentive care and were listened to in the appointment. Though she admitted that her case was helped by the fact she has a social worker and a young child.
The most daunting experience that was shared with me comes from someone who was living in Braintree, at the time, but the experience mostly focuses on the Linden Centre, a secure mental health unit in Chelmsford. She had recently moved to Braintree with her other half, who attempted suicide in early 2019, and was committed to the Linden Centre. Only three days later he was allowed to check himself out. The unit provided a strict care plan, for the team to visit every day and provide new medication every week. This plan lasted a week, then he was 'completely neglected.' Sadly, just three weeks after leaving the Linden Centre, he succeeded in taking his life. The individual who shared this story with me believes that if they remained in their hometown, her other half would still be alive. The mental health in their hometown, a location I will not mention for her privacy, is more attentive, as suicide is far less common and taken more seriously.
Though I understand the mental health system is stretched further than possible with the limited funding, but if this case wasn't a priority to them then the funding is not the only issue. The staff need more in depth training, and the system needs to focus on people not statistics.
Someone in Merseyside stated that when the previous mediation she was on, which was effective with limited side effects, was requested again it was denied. Her mental health was severe, yet she was left with only training nurses. I understand everyone has to be trained, but in severe cases a fully training professional should always be assigned. Though this person has high gratitude for those that work hard in this sector, she does admit that there are a fair share of those who 'don't give a stuff.' She was taken off her medication, as it was causing weight gain, and she needed to lose weight for IVF, though she was not given another medication, which cause a massive drop in her mental health. This was during the mid- nineties, when she was left with the choice of having a child and severe post pardum psychosis or a child with possible disabilities from the medications, an impossible choice. She feels that through her experience with the system she has been 'robbed of motherhood.' Though she appreciates the mental health system has come a long way, it's got longer to go yet.
My own experiences included many assessments where I was not listened to, the reports stating the opposite of many things I said. The systems not wanting to go more in depth with my diagnoses, as it was too much time. Someone else close to me was not officially diagnosed with BDP, because of the stigma attached to it, even though she was told she has it, which limits her resources in getting the correct help. I was lucky enough to be assessed by a private psychiatrist who listened to me, collected all the information and statements from my family and friends, and finally gave me a diagnoses appropriate to the information she had. Though the NHS staff in Colchester disagreed, referring to my mental health as a 'personality trait'.
This private appointment cost nearly £400, which is quite clearly not accessible for most of the country. The way in which the assessment took place, and the information collected before hand should at this stage be procedure for the NHS service. It will cost less to listen to people the first time and help them then, rather than have them return again, and again, because the help was not received before.
This article isn't written in vengeance, I intended to include an equal number of positive experiences to remain without a bias. Though the sad truth is, I have heard limited positive reviews. Through the many years I've spoken about this topic, the majority of the experiences I've heard have been horrific.
All in all, there's a long way to go. Let's just hope they don't run in circles ending up at square one just as many of us have.
If you're struggling with mental health issues, here are some charities and immediate phone lines that may help.
Samaritans—116 123 (FREE SERVICE)
Papyrus HOPELINE—0800 068 41 41 / 07786209697