Public Discussion on Mental Health

On March 25th at Lansdowne an audience of over 70 people listened to presentations from a panel of experts, which included Alison Gray, a consultant psychiatrist from Hereford; Elaine Dolby and Karen Ingram from the Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust; Steven Heath, representing the mental health charity MIND and Ade Couper from the Alzheimer’s Society. The Chair was Councillor John Raine, Chair of the MHDC.

We heard that poor mental health is an increasing problem across all ages in the population. Dr Gray mentioned that 1 in 4 people in the UK will have to seek help with mental health problems during their lifetime. There is still stigma attached to mental illness and many people suffering with mental ill health find talking about their condition very difficult as a result. The Mental Health sector in the NHS is a ‘Cinderella’ service, constantly losing out in the battle for funds. Dr Gray told us that just this month £800 million earmarked to improve mental health services has been diverted to offset the overspend from acute hospital trusts. Politicians receive more pressure to provide resources for obvious physical illnesses, as voters are less vocal about mental illnesses. Steven Heath told us that early intervention in treating patients with psychotic illnesses is very cost effective, such that every £1 spent in this way results in £27 of saving in additional care. Elaine Dolby said that improvements are being made in how the relevant agencies in Worcestershire are working together for the benefit of patients.

Following the presentations from the panel there was a lively and sometimes passionate question time session. Many attendees had faced long waiting times and bureaucracy when help was required, particularly when young people were involved. Emergency crisis care was praised but waiting times for ongoing help can be as long as 18 weeks, which causes much distress. Elaine Dolby said that waiting times for mental health care in Worcestershire are better than the national average.

Questions were raised about the ability of schools to support children with mental health problems, and about the rise in stress in the workplace leading to increasing levels of poor
 mental health in the workforce. There is a reluctance to raise such problems due to the stigma attached and the fear of losing their jobs. Protection against discrimination in the workplace on mental health grounds is provided by the Equalities Act, but this is seen as largely ineffective. More discussions are needed to normalise mental health problems so that help can be provided both in schools and at work.

The question time ended on a positive note with a discussion of an increase in ‘dementia friendly communities’ and the recognition by some large retailers that customers with mental health problems need understanding from their staff as well as improved access.

Many thanks to all those of the Lansdowne congregation who helped with preparing the church for the debate; providing catering; stewarding; help with car parking; looking after the guests and so on.  It is much appreciated.            

David Tweats