Today is World Mental Health Day, which always gets me thinking about my own mental health. WMHD this year falls just a couple of days after the Lib Dems announced that from April 2015, waiting list targets for people needing talking therapy will be just 18 weeks. Great news. Ish.
When you’re in the grip of a spiralling depression as I was last year, when you’re googling ways to kill yourself because you can’t bear to inflict yourself on your family anymore, or when you’ve used your last bit of strength to reach out and ask for help, waiting four and a half months is still a horrendously long time.
I speak from experience. In August 2013, I was referred by my GP to Manchester Mental Health & Social Care Trust to see a psychiatrist. I was suicidal, self harming, a danger to myself but not to others. My anxiety and depression were at horrifying levels. My GP was throwing tablets at my problems which weren’t really helping, they were actually making life more difficult and intolerable. I was warned the waiting list was quite long, but I didn’t realise that 14 months, yes 14 MONTHS later I’d still be waiting for my initial appointment.
In those 14 months I have worked bloody hard to help myself, I’m proud of how far I’ve come with no official support, but I know I still have issues, so many issues and that the root of my problems still needs addressing because I could so easily find myself back there. I still need the talking therapy I’ve been waiting 14 months for.
At one stage, I had a paranoid suspicion that mental health waiting lists are so long because they’re just waiting for people to kill themselves and naturally shorten the list that way. It’s an insane thought I know, but maybe there is one person in the system who crosses the names of the dead off the list and thinks “well that’s saved a couple of quid”.
In fairness I can see the situation from both sides. I worked in the NHS for a long time and I know how stretched services and resources are. How massively underfunded mental health provision is and how undervalued and overworked the staff generally are. Most staff and managers are trying to make the best from what little they’ve got.
The National Health Service, the pride of Britain, shouldn’t be run on a make do and mend basis. If you want services to have shorter waiting lists, then the funding and resources have to be put in place to achieve that. If you want quick turn around in clinics with long term positive outcomes for patients, then services will need support to achieve that and patients will need the time, all the time they need to find their own normal and their own wellness.
Six sessions of CBT is in most cases probably not enough. CBT can be brilliant, but it’s not a miracle cure for all mental health conditions. Learning to think your way positively out of situations is great and something I’ve taught myself to do in the last 14 months, but for me and countless others it’s just a patch up job. The root cause of my anxiety and depression needs dealing with. I’m not alone in that.
Having an 18 week target is a fantastic step forward for mental health service provision, but what it really needs is investment in services, help for patients which is easy to access and staff who are paid what they deserve and who are given the resources they need to make their services be the best that they can be.
I’ll be watching how this 18 week target scheme pans out. I wonder if I’ll get my initial appointment before April 2015. I’ll not hold my breath.