So it’s Mental Health Awareness Week.
I’ll start of the way a lot of these awareness posts tend to go- with a comparison.
Three months ago I was a psychiatric inpatient, approaching the end of a fairly lengthy admission.
Today, I stood in front of the Top Dogs of my health trust- chief execs, funding panel- the lot, and provided a ‘lived experience’ of a programme my OT wants to extend and roll out. It was run as a ‘Dragon’s Den’, with different teams from all aspects of healthcare coming to pitch their ideas to the heads of the Trust and ask for funding.
Three months ago, I was low. I was hopeless and suicidal and I didn’t see that I was a person of value or that I could have something to give to the world- or indeed, that there was a life beyond bipolar disorder. Three months ago I survived. I tell my psychiatrist in ward round that I wake up each morning willing for the day to be over. I need prompting to shower, I sit motionless in front of the TV, I sob to nurses and they scratch their heads and wonder what to do with me, because I am stagnating.
Today, I thrived. Today I stood in front of a room full of Important people, and a room full of healthcare professionals, and told them I had bipolar disorder, and that I was doing well. During feedback, one by one the Top Dogs congratulate me on speaking so well, on looking so well. When they announce the winner, one of the Important People thanks me for sharing part of my story, and says that it’s important for them as Top Dogs to meet and hear from service users, to know that the money they pump into these projects and services are of benefit to people.
It being Mental Health Awareness Week, I want to highlight that funding into mental health services is IMPORTANT, precisely because it does help people.
I would not have been standing up there today sharing my story if it were’t for the support I’ve been given the past few months.
Without the inpatient bed I had funded, the medications I was prescribed to bring me down and stabilise my mood, the nurses and HCAs and the ward manager and the social worker and the occupational therapist and the consultant and the registrars and junior doctors and medical students and the domestic staff that gave me their time, and the CPN I was allocated on discharge, the occupational therapist I was referred to, the gym membership I was given, the Choose to Lose programme I am part of, the recovery college courses I’ve attended- without all of that support, I simply would not have been in that room today telling my story. That’s a LOT of people, a lot of support, a lot of time, a lot of resources- a lot of MONEY, for just one person.
So scale that up. 1 in 4 of us will suffer from a mental health condition in our lifetime. Yet for a problem that is so widespread, mental health receives a disproportionately low percentage of the NHS budget- 13.8% of the total NHS England budget is spent on mental health for example. Across the different areas of mental health, services are seeing a real term cut in funding. The number of mental health nurses in the NHS has fallen by 15% since 2010- that’s 6,610 fewer specialist nurses, 6,610 nurses that could’ve helped tens of thousands of people needing specialist mental health care. Right across the NHS there is a worsening bed crisis, but within mental health, this crisis is most acute. Since 2000, nearly half of mental health beds have been cut, resulting in hundreds of people being treated out of area each month, and occasions where there is not a single adult mental health bed across the country. There’s been an increase in the use of the Mental Health Act, suggesting both that people aren’t receiving care or intervention when it’s first needed, and that mental health workers are resorting to sectioning people to ensure they get a bed. 12% of people with mental health problems spend over a year waiting for talking therapies, while it can take an average of 30 weeks for an initial assessment with the CMHT. In the past four years, the number of children presenting to A&E with a mental health condition has more than doubled.
Anecdotally, I’ve seen an increase in people being admitted to my local ward from the Big City, which is an hour and a half away, because it’s nearest ward with a bed. There’s only one adolescent inpatient unit in the country, specialist services such as Eating Disorder and Personality Disorder services span the entire Trust, with just a few members of staff covering the whole area, and the crisis team in my area is still not up and running the way it should be. I know someone that attended A&E after self harming and feeling suicidal that was discharged with absolutely no follow up. One nurse on the ward did something like 18 nights out of 19 on shift, and there’s been far more bank staff on shift now than there were when I was first admitted to the ward a few years ago.
Funding is stretched, and I’ve seen and heard about people turned away in crisis because there are no beds, or their BMI isn’t low enough, or denied treatment because they fall into the category of being “too sick” for short term treatments and “not sick enough” for long term support or not be able to access specialist mental health services at all. When funding is cut, beds are cut, staff are cut, therapies are cut and criteria to ‘qualify’ for treatment is made to exclude more people.
The frustrating thing is, that adequate help can save lives and have a huge, huge impact on a person’s quality of life. I’ve been so, so lucky to have received such good mental health care, and without a doubt it’s helped me make immense progress and achieve things I didn’t imagine I could.
Mental health treatment shouldn’t be a postcode lottery, but that’s the way it’s become- and real people, real lives, are lost as a result.
People can’t thrive if they don’t have the support or the resources around them to do so, and that’s why mental health funding is so, so important. It’s all well and good having awareness weeks and encouraging people to speak out- but all to often there is no one there to listen, because services are already fit to bursting.
So this Mental Health Awareness Week I want to draw attention to that. I am thriving, now- but only after huge amounts of support from a host of different mental health services. Mental health issues are just as valid, affect people just as much as physical conditions do- so it’s time to make the funding match.