Are doctors doing enough to help solve the UK’s mental health crisis?

 

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I remember sitting there, my hands trembling as I clasped the armrest of the chair that I sat on. Sitting opposite to me was the doctor. A expression of neutrality seemed to be a permanent fixture on her face. Her hair was neatly combed, her mascara applied with meticulous precision and she was impeccably dressed from head to toe; not an inch of her was out of place. I was almost envious considering my own less than majestic image.

Her eyes darted habitually back and forth between the overtly anxious person sitting in front of her and the computer that separated us; she did not betray a flicker of emotion the whole time I was there.

Trying to sum up the world of pain that engulfs you on a daily basis in such a short space of time is not easy. Believe me, I know. In the end, you just have to tell your story, and then await their judgement.

Yet there is always a part of you that wants to shout, to scream. You want them to understand . You need them to understand.

Unfortunately, like many of you out there, I have walked away after seeing a doctor feeling cheated, dejected and most tellingly of all, hopelessly depressed.

It’s the same story all over…

 

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Sadly it is no secret that GPs nationwide lack the necessary knowledge and resources to effectively deal with the mental health crisis that has gripped society.

None of this is a big secret. In fact, much of this comes from the people who work in the profession themselves. In a recent article, a GP revealed that ‘every day I see around two patients with severe mental health problems who I can’t get any help’, and even more significantly,  she adds, ‘I have not trained in mental health’.

This is almost hard to believe. It infers that despite the worrying statistics there are out there surrounding the subject of mental illness, the people who supposed to be caring for us are not even competently educated on the subject. This ignorance is not only harming the psychological health of many, but it is killing people.

Every. Single. Day.

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The ramifications of this are particularly severe considering a recent report conducted in Canada, another industrialised nation. It is estimated that ‘at least 20% of GP visits were MD-related’, while  highlighting that while doctors were comfortable with handling moderate mental disorders, the same could not be said for treating those who suffer with more severe mental issues; patients who were diagnosed with illnesses such as a ‘personality disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), eating disorder, sexual addiction and concomitant substance abuse or mental retardation’ were deemed a challenge. Some GPs even went as far as to admit they were only comfortable in working with these patients when they ‘were stabilised or when more specialised diagnoses were made’.

It is also worth considering that while 25% of  all patients  who go to their GP for consultation are there to discuss mental health issues they are disallowed from fully explaining their issues due to time constraints. In fact, they are allowed only a mere 10 minutes to discuss their problem. This makes it completely impossible (or at least, highly improbable) that a visit to the GP is sufficient enough to be of any real assistance, outside of prescribing medication or being given direction towards ridiculously oversubscribed therapy services.

In turn, this introduces another flaw, which is that the health service is ‘designed around hospital and medicines rather than identifying and treating psychological disorders’. This, in my honest opinion, the heart of the issue being discussed. Is every potential option exhausted before a GP prescribes a patient antidepressants? What about therapy, meditation, diet, exercise and the myriad of other helpful solutions which can at least help ease the symptoms of mild to moderate depression?

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If the latest reports that prescriptions for antidepressants have doubled in the last decade are true , then this is not only extremely worrying, but it would seem to suggest that they are being too readily handed out. Potentially you could argue that as the mental health crisis is worsening this is why the number of patients being given medication have also increased.Yet the point still stands – how likely is it that every single one of these people required this type of medication to stabilise their illness? Not all them – I feel like I can say that with absolute confidence.

If GPs are not able to sufficiently help the mentally afflicted, then who is left to pick up the pieces?

Unfortunately, if the mental health services are not there to handle the fallout of those who suffer with severe mental disorders, then another section of society has to take their place. Who is your first port of call when there is an emergency? You’ve guessed it. The police – and their ability to respond to genuine emergencies is being put under considerable strain as a result.

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It is estimated that UK police are spending as much as 40% of their time dealing with incidents related to mental health problems. A report by the Revolving Doors Agency and the Transition to Adulthood Alliance details how ‘84% of all control room calls are related to non-crime incidents, often linked to issues of vulnerability, public protection and safeguarding’. If all of this is true, can you imagine how many crimes occur that go unpunished? More significantly, by dialling 999 rather than another emergency number for apt for the concern at hand, you are adding to the stigma that mentally ill are in some way a threat to you – in the vast majority of cases this is an incorrect assumption.

Another disturbing article suggests that, instead of placing the mentally distressed in environments suitable to their needs, it is often the result that ‘thousands of vulnerable people, even as young as 16, have ended up in police cells as a ‘place of safety’. Even if you can ignore the traumatising nature of confining someone who is mentally ill in a small and unwelcome space, is this really an acceptable way to treat people who clearly need support as opposed to isolation? Maybe if that person demonstrated displays of violence towards others this would be an understandable course of action to take, but as this is unlikely to be the case, I would deem it morally dubious at best.

A silver lining?

While all of this information paints a bleak picture of mental health services in the UK, it would be unfair and inaccurate to ignore the fact that there is work being done in an attempt to overhaul a dated, and thus inefficient system:

-A pilot project aimed at helping to improve GPs understanding the signs of mental health carried out in 2013 resulted in 64% of those trained stating their confidence in dealing with the issue , whereas only 46% were confident in their abilities beforehand.

-More recently, it has been recommended by a task force commissioned by the government that the NHS should train 700 GP mental health specialists and give all GPs basic mental health training  by 2020.

– Another report says that GPs and medical students should get more training to help them understand mental illness, particularly with patients who suffer with schizophrenia and psychosis.

-The idea of establishing on site mental healthcare services has also been thrown around as this would free up GPs to spend more time on matters they can confidently deal with, as well as allow them to be more informed about mental health matters in general.

So who is to blame for this crisis?

Pointing fingers at one specific group of people is rarely justified and it is never helpful. So the question therefore is not, are GPs doing enough is help curb the mental health crisis. Instead it is, more often than not, are they being permitted to do enough?

I think the answer in this regard is a firm no. Even doctors with the best of intentions are being limited by the infrastructure of the health service as it currently stands. However, going by what I have mentioned above, there are improvements being tested and, in some cases, carried out. We can only hope that this progress continues and remains unimpeded by government interference and bad decision making by those higher up in the hierarchy.

Another relevant question would be, are we, the general public, doing enough as a society to educate ourselves on mental health issues? While there is little we can do about it unless we’re involved in the profession itself or stage some kind of protest, it is clear that awareness needs to be raised drastically in regards to the subject at hand . We cannot let the stigma dictate how society treats people with mental health problems, and more importantly, we cannot let it play a part in the formation of a fairer, and more flexible health service that treats people with the respect and care they deserve.

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What has your experience with your local GP been like? Have they been helpful to you in regards to your mental health issues? Do you have any ideas of your own about how mental health services can be improved either within the UK or your own country of residence? I look forward to reading and replying to your responses in the comment section below!

Emotional support helplines:

Samaritans :116 123

Sane Line:0845 767 8000

10 thoughts on “Are doctors doing enough to help solve the UK’s mental health crisis?

  1. Had a terrible experience with my Gp. She didn’t even realise I had a diagnosis of psychosis! When I started talking about the other man in the room (who was not really there) she cut me off and told me to leave.
    But was it her fault? Perhaps it was a lack of understanding on her part. I just feel like it could have been dealt with better.
    Great post by the way!

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    1. By the sounds of it your GP was not only untrained , but very unprofessional and most tellingly of all, unsympathetic to your mental illness. I’m sorry that you had to go through that. While I understand that GPs are under intense pressure, being dismissed the way you were in unacceptable. This also illustrates exactly why they are not in a good position to deal with mental health issues-time limits and lack of knowledge! Thanks a lot for commenting and sharing your story!:)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey there, thanks for the nomination. It’s been a little crazy around here, wife got sick (she’s getting better), but I will work on those nomination questions.
    In regard to the GP, I totally forgot y’all have a state sponsored health care program over there. I don’t know how that works, but it sounds different. Over here, I think the government governs best, that governs least. I have had the privilege of attending a number (6) of in-patient facilities, both by choice and invitation, and the difference between state and private is obvious. The state facilities are generally more short term and are more of holding facilities. Well, actually, before I comment a page long, maybe I will write a post about this. Bottom line, information is key, yes. Here, our problem is financial access. Cash is king, and I am not sure there is a short or governmental way to address that.

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    1. Hey there. No problem at all – I always enjoy reading your work! I will have to actually comment on something one of these days – your proposed article sounds interesting, as I know very little about the way your system works and its flaws 🙂

      Thanks for providing an enlightening insight into how state and private funded facilities differ. Sadly it’s a similar story over here.

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  3. My experience with GP services was reasonably positive, whilst they did reach for the prescription pad and initially put me on fluoxetine which made my anxiety go through to roof and make me be unable to eat or sleep of five days. They also recognised that I needed additional support and referred me to the community mental health team. However it was here that my positive experience ended, the worker I saw at the community mental health team had made his mind up about me before I even walked through the door. One of his first statements was ‘your not for us’ he watched me completely sob and talk about my fears and worries and how my anxiety was significantly impacting on my daily life and again stated ‘you don’t meet our criteria’ with no emotion or empathy or even a flicker of understanding. I left there feeling terrible, absolutely hopeless and lost. I felt like I’d been pushed out to deal with this overwhelming anxiety on my own and no real clue as to what I was experiencing or how to beat overcome it. My view is that unless you are a risk to yourself or others the mental health services are unable to support you, which is a sad reality and had me questioning how bad things needed to get before I could get some support. The stark reality is that our mental health services are over stretched and poorly funded and that’s not how to treat some of the most vulnerable people in society.

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    1. Hi Natalie. It’s good to hear that your GP at least gave you a positive response – I am sorry to know that things turned sour so quickly after that! It is people like that worker you just described who should NOT be working in mental health services. While some degree of impartiality is necessary, the fact that they watched you sob and did nothing is not only cold but clearly made you feel even worse about yourself.

      I completely agree. There is no middle ground. You’re either fortunate enough that either antidepressants/therapy work for you, or you’re left out to dry. I say this as I watched a close friend of mine deteriorate at university -he asked for help more than once – yet he was turned away as his problems were ‘too severe’ for them to help him with. The result – he self harmed and attempted to take his own life – twice I might add. Thankfully he’s getting the support he needs now, but it was only when he presented himself as a harm to himself that that help was given. It’s a massive flaw in the system that seriously needs addressing! Thank you for bringing this up – and thank you for sharing your story!

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  4. I wanted to share my experience with my GP when I had my breakdown. I was given an emergency appointment that morning. Dr T held my hand while I cried and tried to tell him the terrible things that were happening in my mind. He was sympathetic, asked insightful questions and spent *way* more then 10 minutes with me. I came away with a referral to a psychiatrist (and was seen a few days later) and instructions to go home and go to bed.

    After years of suffering and thinking it normal coupled with ‘take two a day and you’ll soon be well’ I finally got the help I needed.

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    1. It’s really nice reading about these positive experiences! It sounds like your GP is one of the good ones. He took your plight seriously and it sounds like you’re getting the help you require.

      Thanks so much for commenting and providing a positive experience. I was careful not to demonise doctors in this entry as I acknowledge that a lot of the problems are down to the health service in general and not them – they can only do the best with what they’ve been given after all!

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  5. Hi there, I am conducting research about how and why people use the internet to comment on health services, see info below, please get in touch if you mighr be interested in taking part, it would be good to include your story.

    The INQUIRE project: Interviewing patients and the public who have used the internet to express their views about healthcare , or have read other people’s comments.

    • Have you ever read other people’s online comments or posts about their views or experiences of healthcare ?
    • Or perhaps you have posted or written about your own health or healthcare experiences online?
    • Are you 18 or over?

    We would like to find out more about how and why patients and members of the public have used the internet to express their views about healthcare , or read other people’s comments. We are interested in people’s use of a range of internet platforms e.g. Twitter, YouTube, blogs, health forums, patient feedback websites and NHS complaints forums

    If you have used the internet for this purpose, we would like to invite you to take part in an interview with one of our researchers. An interview will typically last between 45 minutes and one hour. A researcher could interview you at your home, or elsewhere if you prefer. Interviews may also take place by telephone or online if preferred.

    If you are interested and would like to find out more about what is involved please contact:
    Susan Kirkpatrick
    Email: susan.kirkpatrick@phc.ox.ac.uk

    Like

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