Why mental health care in the UK needs to be better

I strongly believe that mental healthcare in the UK needs to be better. But don’t just take my word for it. Today I want to share with you, Heather and Julie’s experience accessing mental health care, as well as my own to highlight why I have this opinion.

Before I was officially diagnosed with depression by my GP, I knew I needed to access help. I referred myself to a talking therapies service on the NHS and I had to do an initial over-the-phone questionnaire. I did this and was told I would receive an information pack about the services they offer in the post and I could then choose which one I’d like the opt for.

This information pack never arrived, instead I received a letter saying I had been discharged from their service. I was disappointed and at that stage, I was reaching crisis point and didn’t want to go through the stress of disputing this letter.

When I became very suicidal, my mum took me to A+E but I felt like I was dismissed because I hadn’t actually made an attempt on my life. I was left thinking, I have to try and kill myself for them to take me seriously? Looking back I think this attitude is horrendous, I was in severe distress, but yet I was told to go home.

That week I went to see my GP and he put me on antidepressants. You can read about my experience taking these here.

He also offered to refer me to the talking therapies service. I told him about my previous experience and his response was that it is a very busy service and that I should try again. He did warn that there would be a long waiting list and asked me if I had made an attempt to take my own life, again because I hadn’t I was dismissed for a second time, given pills and told I would be put on a waiting list. Great, just what I needed more waiting around.

Luckily I was fortunate enough to access private medical care, which meant I didn’t have to wait, but I worry about all the people who can’t afford this kind of treatment. Does their mental health deteriorate whilst waiting?

In 2018 The Guardian reported that a ‘Damning report finds ‘serious failings’ in NHS mental health services’. Headlines such as this doesn’t surprise me because the majority of people I have spoken to, don’t have a positive experience to share.

The second time I attempted to access the NHS talking therapies I had an even worse experience than the first. I rang and did the questionnaire on the phone again and was told I would be put on a waiting list for therapy. I didn’t hear back until FOUR MONTHS later. By that point I had managed to improve my mental health through techniques I had learnt the first-time I went to therapy, so by the time I heard back, I was feeling good and I didn’t need help. However I was offered relapse prevention therapy over the phone which I accepted.

This wasn’t great, I couldn’t understand the woman who was on the phone because she was speaking in broken English and the phone line was awful. I didn’t find this therapy very helpful at all, but luckily I was in a good place so I didn’t feel like I needed to pursue other options.

I want to make it clear at this point that this article is by no way an attack at the NHS. I think the work they do is incredible, I think the problems lie at the top. The mental health services are overstretched and underfunded and it is time this stopped.

Julie Watson, 58, from County Durham shared her experience with me.

What kind of treatment did you receive?
Initially I was given an antidepressant Fluoxetine Diazepam and anti anxiety tablet Propranolol. Later antipsychotic drugs.

I spiralled into self harm and psychosis. My GP advised talking to a community psychiatrist nurse (CPN).

I saw my GP twice a week and CPN twice a week then was given the choice of going into hospital on a voluntary basis or being sectioned under the mental health act. I chose the former.

Unfortunately once in hospital I realised that I was prevented from leaving.
In total I was in for 6 months and after 3 weeks was taken for ECT (electroconvulsive treatment) by a psychiatrist I had only met 3 times.

What service or organisation did you use?
I used my GP and local mental health trust as an outpatient and patient. A&E (who were horrible).
DBT talking therapy.
Monthly visits from a CPN.

Do you think your treatment was beneficial?
Well the ECT treatment wiped so much from my brain I don’t know, but I AM STILL HERE AND HAPPY! So yes, it must have.

I am now slowly being weaned from years on Diazepam, simply because it is no longer in favour – not because it doesn’t work – it does! This shows me that it is their figures and targets that matter NOT my mental health.

I had dialectical behaviour therapy. It would have been good if I wanted to buy drugs because that’s all people talked about during the breaks, oh and we were encouraged to hug trees.

What were the best parts of your treatment?
Learning that I wasn’t the only person going through this.

How do you think your mental healthcare could of been better?
Honesty from health professionals. I found that they waffled instead of being honest to achieve their goals.

Would you recommend the treatment to other people?
Yes. I have to recommend it. No matter how awful it is to go with the treatment they offer at a time you are unable to understand it, anything that helps save the life of just one person is worthwhile.

What are your thoughts about mental healthcare in the UK?
Mental healthcare is antiquated and underfunded. It deals with people who are so broken they can’t see the future.

Unfortunately I found that the people who gravitate towards working in this institution lose their sense of reality and see patients almost as an inconvenience. I have experienced too many incidents for it to be narrowed down to one or two people. It is the norm rather than the exception to the rule.

I would love to say that I had/have good experiences when using the mental health services here in Durham but it continues to disappoint me.

💜💜💜💜💜💜

I am so pleased Julie got the help she needed and is happy now, however her experience demonstrates some severe failings in the services she dealt with, such as having her freedom taken away from her, being told to hug trees and the ECT treatment wiping out a lot of her memory. If you’d like to read more about ECT treatment there is a helpful article by Mind here.

Julie is my boyfriend Ed’s mum, you can read his post about living around mental illness here.

This is Heather, 26, from Houghton-le-Spring’s mental health care experience.

I was diagnosed with social anxiety and depression in August 2018, but looking back I can see it started months beforehand. I’d always been shy but in early 2018 I noticed I was finding it harder to meet up with friends and wanted to spend less and less time around others.

What kind of treatment did you receive?
I received Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which is a talking therapy often used for anxiety and depression.

What service or organisation did you use?
Sunderland Psychological Wellbeing Service.

Was it easy to access this service or organisation?
It was pretty easy. But a long process. I started by visiting my doctor and explaining how I felt. He then referred me to the psychological team who assessed me over the phone. I then waited around 8-10 weeks for my first appointment.

Do you think your treatment was beneficial?
Eventually. You have to do a questionnaire for every appointment looking at how your anxiety and depression have been and the scores had come right down to a ‘normal’ level by the end of my therapy.

My therapy took just shy of 5 months to complete. It took several weeks for me to notice a difference and longer for others. Some ideas they teach you for managing your illness were better than others. I didn’t take to it at first. But I got there.

What were the best parts of your treatment?
It was finding out that there were ways to handle my thoughts and other people noticing the change in me. The treatment itself I found hard and challenging but the results were worth it. Once other people noticed a change in me I knew it was working.

How do you think your mental healthcare could of been better?
I was messed around a bit. I was told it would be an 8 week wait for an appointment and waited around 10-11 weeks. I was sent to the wrong clinic for my second appointment and almost ended up there for my final appointment.

I also mentioned several times about how I’d considered harming myself or ending my life, but the fear of pain and upsetting my loved ones put me off.

A couple of times I was asked if I had the numbers I could call if I was in crisis but nothing further was mentioned. The fear of pain or upsetting loved ones is really common and is a common reason people don’t harm themselves or end their life, but just because it puts you off one week doesn’t mean things won’t get so bad you go ahead with plans.

Would you recommend the treatment to other people?
Yes. But if you’re told talking therapies could help, ask which one. I assumed this meant some counselling and arrived discovering it was for CBT which meant homework. I often found it hard to do in between work, housework, social life and periods of depression.

It was helpful and I’ve learnt some great tricks to help, but sometimes I wonder whether some counselling would’ve helped too.

What are your thoughts about mental healthcare in the UK?
It needs more funding. I hate to sound like I’m repeating what everyone else says, but it needs it. From realising I needed help to finishing my CBT was a 7 month process.

When I started the process by seeing my doctor I was frequently crying in the toilets at work and trying to think of ways I could miss work and get out of seeing people. I didn’t want to go out. I’d even got it into my head that my family didn’t want me around. I really needed help and it was a long wait and a long process.

In order for the team to see as many people as possible I was often waiting between 2-3 weeks for my next appointment. I could’ve done it in half the time if there was enough funding and mental health workers to see more people.
I’m not knocking the treatment or my therapist. Both were great. But to help their patients; more money is really needed.

💜💜💜💜💜💜

Again Heather’s experience highlights a severe need for more funding. I found it shocking to learn that Heather was messed around with her appointment locations on a number of occasions which caused her unnecessary stress she didn’t need. There is no excuse for treating patients this way.

I’m interested to know your thoughts on mental health care in the UK. Have you had a positive or negative experience?

I will continue to be vocal about the ways the UK can improve mental health care until waiting lists are decrease and more money is spent.

If you would like to have your experience published on my blog please send me an email at hannah@wellbeanblog.com or message me in the comments below and I will get in touch with you.

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7 Comments

  1. helpinghandful

    What an amazing blog post! I loved reading about the experiences of Julie and Heather. Thank you for writing this, I totally agree that mental health services are totally inadequate currently; people are not getting the help they need unfortunately.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. itsgoodtobecrazysometimes

    My experience have been mainly positives, but I have a fantastic GP, however I have heard more bad than good stories and it has little to do with the people working in the NHS but more to do with the hoops you need to jump through. ~

    Having said that, I strongly believe that children’s mental health needs to improve and quickly, I honestly believe that if that was to improve, then we might have less adults with mental health problems. Obviously we are never going to have adults with no mental health problems, as they can develop at anytime, but we might be able to have a couple less

    Like

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