A quick roundup of the latest news on mental health
1. Rise in demand for mental health services as a result of coronavirus
There’s been so much going on in the world this last year, in particular, the coronavirus. Because the virus has taken up many column inches, I fear mental health has been less obvious in the media. However, I’ve been catching up on the latest mental health news, and thought I’d share some of it with you.
The Independent, June 2020, wrote “Coronavirus: Pledge to boost spending on mental health.” And just two days ago The Independent wrote again “The recession is here. Get ready for the mental health pandemic.”
But, NHS England’s director of mental health had already promised that spending on mental health will not be cut to help other parts of the NHS. She said that “the commitment to investing £2.3bn of extra spending is absolute.” Local health services were told to continue investing in mental health as the NHS prepares to publish updated guidance.”
To be honest, I didn’t hold out much hope of this happening. However, The NHS update, August 2020, reports that “the total annual allocations programmes in 2020/21 remain in place and sites should proceed with delivery. The mechanism for flowing funding will be confirmed shortly.”
This is great news, as is the expansion of Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.
2. Improving access to psychological therapies (IAPT)
IAPT provide treatment for the most common mental health problems and accept self-referrals. The first appointment consists of data collection about the patient and their problem. Treatment normally begins during the second appointment and continues for another 5-9 weeks, often depending on where you live.
Like many NHS services, IAPT is expected to see patients quickly. It was given a target of seeing 75% of patients within six weeks of a referral. Reportedly, it achieved this in nearly 90% of cases in 2018-19. However, patients report long waits between their first and second appointment. The BBC, 2019, reports that “half of patients waited over 28 days, and one in six longer than 90 days, between their first and second sessions in the past year.”
IAPT began in 2008 and I believed it to be a much needed service. However, during the last twelve years, I know many people have been unable to access this service at all. Let alone returning for the treatment phase.
The NHS Update said “IAPT should be at the forefront of this next phase. Money is available to augment salary replacement costs to help with the expected, significant, surge in demand for IAPT services.” I’ll be following this with interest, and hope to report back that this promise has been fulfilled.
3. Community Mental Health Teams (CMHT’s)
A bugbear of mine was always about our local CMHT’s and the multidisciplinary professionals “working” within them. This is my own opinion, of course, and I stand by it — most of them were lazy, good for nothing, burnt out, uneducated and a waste of space. I’ve seen them in action, and I’ve seen their elaborate reports where patients with severe mental illness have gone months and, in a few cases, years without any contact with their care coordinator.
I also saw these patients, who were severely unwell, when they were dropped off at our acute inpatients by their said care coordinator. We all saw many patients in mute and catatonic states, dishevelled, matted hair with nits, and one looking like a scarecrow. The care coordinators then dished out their wisdom, issuing orders to our nursing teams about how this patient should be cared for. Ha! A bit late. It was like bolting the gate after the bull’s gone!
4. CMHT’s in the news
So this latest news comes as no shock. “While successive national mental health policies and strategies have left community mental health teams untouched, the new framework calls for their transformation and modernisation,” Centre for Mental Health.
Earlier this year, a new model was being built, one that would set out what people could expect from community mental health services and that would close the gap between primary and secondary care.
This new model for has now been published by NHS England and presents an outline for how an extra £1 billion will be spent over the next five years. The model also sets out how it will expand community mental health services for adults, and what changes it expects local services to make to meet people’s needs better.
This represents long-awaited and positive changes in the way our CMHT’s are run. Again I’ll be keeping up-to-date will the changes and look forward to reviewing this new model in action.
5. Children’s mental health services
The Independent, 2020, wrote how “the number of children admitted to A&E with mental health problems had jumped 330% over past decade.” Furthermore, “reduced community services have fuelled this surge in crisis admissions at hospital emergency departments.”
Crackdown on using police cells for youngsters needing mental health beds also means A&E departments are increasingly the default option.
Mental health problems which go unsupported are known to have a long-term impact on children’s mental health and life chances. Why, then, the continued failure to prioritise and invest in mental health services for children and adolescents?
An NHS England spokesperson said: “The NHS is actually ahead of its target on ensuring as many children as possible receive mental health care.” They report seeing an extra 53,000 children, teenagers and young adults last year, a 14 per cent increase on the year before.
Their long-term plan sets out that all children in crisis will be able to access crisis care 24/7, seven days a week by 2023-24. But first, we’ll need to deal with the expected fallout from coronavirus. The Guardian, June 2020, reports that the virus “will trigger UK child mental health crisis.”
Children already presenting with mental ill-health, who need treatment now, will be pushed further back down the waiting list. Where will the funding come from, and will systems be put in place immediately, or will children have to wait until 2023? If this issue isn’t addressed now, the longer-term cost to the country are going to be far greater.
4. Media reporting on mental illness, violence and crime
What thoughts come to mind when mental health issues are portrayed by the media? Do you imagine a little old lady sitting at home, happily listening to her voices? Or do you see a dishevelled psycho brandishing a two-foot machete in the city centre?
We’ve all seen articles like the one on the right, which only serve to distort the public’s view on mental health. That and the idea that mental illness causes violent behaviour, reinforces the myths and increases stigma.
Research has shown how media coverage is a key source of information and can influence public attitudes and perceptions of mental illness. I’ve seen many articles strewn with offensive terms like “committed suicide” rather than “died by suicide.” The latter shifting the terminology of suicide away from being seen as a criminal act.
The media’s constant emphasis on violence is disproportionate to the rates of violence among those with mental illnesses. And the term committed suicide has undertones of someone carrying out a crime (it’s no longer a crime in the UK). Research suggests this type of reporting can exacerbate social stigma and decrease support for public policies that benefit people with mental illnesses.
A lot more the media can do
Fortunately, since early 2000, the charity Mind runs a helpful Media Advisory Service. Mind also works with journalists, script writers and other media professionals to help ensure fictional and factual portrayals of people with mental health problems in the media are accurate and sensitive. Mental health charities and organisations have urged media professionals, to use the correct and accepted terminology when discussing mental illness. They must also avoid language that is inaccurate and likely to add to the public confusion about schizophrenia.
Since the media has the power to reinforce stigma, media professionals must take mental illness seriously and make efforts to dispel mental health myths. Media professionals like journalists and filmmakers have an obligation to report responsibility and accurately. Furthermore, the media can help reduce mental health stigma by checking sources for accuracy, by educating themselves and striving to portray the truth.
While many of us are not media professional, we can also reduce mental health stigma by watching our use of language, and that of others. If we see false representation of mental illness in t.v programmes, films or on social media, we should report it. Moreover, we can educate ourselves and those around us. Finally, let’s all take a more supportive attitude toward mental health services and people who need them.
Over to you
Do you keep up-to-date with mental health news in your country? What’s the latest? Do you have an IAPT service, or something similar? Perhaps you’d like to see improvements in other areas of mental health services? I look forward to your comments or questions and I’m happy to accept constructive criticism about this post, any others and my blog in general.