Improving Access to Mental Health Services Inquiry

The UK’s Public Accounts Committee has opened an inquiry into improving access to mental health services which you can read about by clicking here.
Whilst the committee is no longer accepting evidence towards the inquiry from the public (the deadline was at midday today), I managed to make a written submission yesterday.
I submitted the following written evidence to the Public Accounts Committee:

“Written evidence submitted by Ben Lawrie on a personal capacity.

  • Paragraph 1 – Introduction
  • Paragraph 2 – Waiting times for mental health services are far too long.
  • Paragraph 3 – Not enough varieties of services are offered.
  • Paragraph 4 -The waiting list utilises a system which disadvantages those who need help the most.
  • (1) My name is Ben Lawrie, I am 21 years old and I am a studying a joint-degree in Psychology and International Relations at the University of St Andrews. Having suffered from depression and anxiety myself I am a dedicated mental health activist and am currently the Mental Health Representative on my University’s Wellbeing Committee. My reason for submitting this written evidence is that I have seen first-hand the short-fallings of the mental health services through my own experience in seeking help, as well as hearing accounts from friends who have also not received the support that they deserve.

 

  • (2) Waiting times are far too long, when I was referred to a psychiatrist in Angus where I live it took around four months for me to get an appointment. For someone with depression and suicidal thoughts, a whole night is a very long time to persevere, four months is simply not good enough. After finally receiving an appointment I had roughly four months to wait between each appointment with the new-found knowledge that I had a mental illness but without any therapy or medication to deal with it. I quickly became disillusioned with the mental health services and stopped going for appointments. Now I am registered in Fife as that is where I attend university, I have again been referred to a psychologist and this time I have been told that the waiting list will be at least a year long, I don’t think I need to explain how this is simply not good enough. Sadly I am not a unique case, a friend of mine in Angus who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder managed to get an emergency appointment with the mental health services, despite it being an emergency appointment the waiting time was two months long. Normal appointments should not take this long let alone emergency appointments.

 

  • (3) After persevering through excruciatingly long waiting times, it is often the case that the support provided is not satisfactory. The psychiatrist I saw seemed generally disinterested in me and eager to put me on anti-depressants and send me on my way. He seemed unsure of what was wrong with me and made it out to be my fault for not finding the words to explain it properly and therefore I was reluctant to take medication if he wasn’t even sure what the problem was to begin with! I’m sure that somebody wouldn’t be sent for chemotherapy unless the doctor was sure they had cancer so I don’t see how it’s acceptable to prescribe anti-depressants to someone when you don’t yet know what mental illness they have. Because of this I was reluctant to accept medication and insisted on counselling instead. After a few weeks wait I finally received counselling from a woman who had the best intentions but after my second sessions she told me that my problems were maybe a little complicated for the counselling she could offer and I was sent back to seeing the psychiatrist once every few months. It was then that I became disillusioned with the support on offer, grudgingly accepted medication (which came with unpleasant side effects) and stopped seeing the psychiatrist. This brings me to my second point, when someone is successful in receiving therapy it tends to be Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and whilst CBT has its merits, its currently being used as a one size fits all solution and many people would benefit far more from different kinds of therapy. There needs to be more of a variety of therapies to suit different individual needs.

 

  • (4) Finally, the waiting list system in place in Fife (I’m not sure if its used everywhere in the country) leads to people who need help the most not getting it. This is because after a few months of being on the waiting list they send you a letter asking if you wish to remain on the waiting list and if you don’t reply within two weeks they take you off of the list. I recently received such a letter and as I was in a fairly reasonable state of mind upon receiving it I was able to reply promptly. However, a close friend of mine who suffers from bipolar disorder and is also on the waiting list received her letter whilst going through a severe manic episode. During this time she was under the delusion that she was somebody else and did not reply to the letter in time. Subsequently she was taken off of the waiting list and had to re-join again from the start. Because of this system, people with more severe mental illness and need help the most are the ones most likely to find themselves unable to respond to their letter and be pulled off of the waiting list and this is a huge problem which needs to be addressed.”

This written evidence was submitted yesterday and I will post updates as I get them.

 

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