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Online Surveys? We Need To Speak To A Human Being Mrs May, Not An Algorithm

10/01/2017 16:58

In her speech to the charities commission the Prime Minister said mental health was "dangerously disregarded" yet at election time it has become a trendy policy all parties have said they will address.

But in my experience, the promises for mental health end on election day, and services are still shamefully lacking.

I have experienced mental health problems since I was in my early twenties, possibly even younger but undiagnosed. But am I likely to be some danger to society because of this illness? No. I am more likely to be a danger to myself, and incredibly nice to you thanks to my lack of self confidence.

This focus on mental health by the Prime Minister is, of course, welcomed and a delightful change from the attitude taken by the authorities last year who were happy to label people who committed violent crimes across Europe as 'mentally ill' rather than use the word 'terrorist'. The 2016 Russell Square stabbings were very quickly linked to possible mental disorders as were others in European countries.

I found it astonishing that despite the huge waiting lists for any kind of mental health treatment, the authorities were able to diagnose this man within hours of him committing a possible terrorist act - after all his interests were listed as Islamic theology, with a profile on a book review website listing a biography of the Prophet Mohamed and a book of Quran verses and hadiths as recent reads.

It seemed that it was politically acceptable to label someone as mentally ill rather than a potential terrorist: Politicians can distance themselves and their policies from the mentally ill, you see, in a way they can't do so with terrorism.

But anyone who has had any kind of experience trying to access more than a repeat prescription for anti depressants knows the dire state of services in the English NHS. I imagine it is just as bad in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland but having not accessed their services, I am not in a place to comment.

I have been treated by three separate Primary Health Care trusts in different parts of the country and on every occasion was told of the huge waiting lists I would face if I wanted to receive treatment on the NHS.

One GP told me that if I had private medical insurance or could afford to pay to go privately it would be the best option because then I stood a chance of seeing a professional within two years.

Another nurse I was receiving help from, following an incredibly traumatic 21 months when a former colleague with a criminal record and an axe to grind maliciously reported me to the police and the kind hearted media decided to hound me, condemning me as guilty even though I was innocent, told me that she would be unable to see me any more because their building was being sold off.

That's right; mental health is such a high priority that community teams are having their offices sold so they have no place to treat patients. You might excuse me for thinking that this is not the result of successive governments which particularly care.

Mental health patients never make good people for poster campaigns. We don't have any visible bits missing and we aren't going to die suddenly without immediate treatment: we get put to the bottom of the list because we are not PR friendly.

So Mrs May's high profile speech outside of an election campaign is very welcome - although I personally question some of the policies being announced when what would be the most helpful is qualified professionals and appointments to see them.

I believe that the lack of investment in mental health care is a false economy, costing millions in lost working hours, lower productivity and a direct cost to your local health trust.

According to an article in the Nursing Times in 2014 the average GP appointment costs the NHS £25 whereas an average A&E appointment costs up to £120. I believe those people who end up in A&E because of their mental health - such as the fear of and actual suicide attempts, self harm and the victims who do end their own life because it is all too much - could have avoided this trauma if they had access to mental health care before it reached crisis point.

I have personally tried to find out the numbers of people who have ended up in A&E with mental health related issues who are on NHS waiting lists but getting these numbers is harder than seeing a psychiatrist without using your own credit card.

So before we all get too excited about this announcement, let us remember that there is no new Treasury money for these plans, many of which seem to be focused on schools and online quizzes. It has been predicted that the share of local NHS budgets which are allocated to mental health care will actually fall next year whereas this headline speech may wrongly give the impression there is more money being allocated.

As for online surveys, euphemistically called 'online symptom checkers', I think it's best if these mediums are left to picking which Disney princess you are or which Hogwarts house people should be sorted into. When your mind is a dark mass of negative thoughts, you are exhausted from not sleeping or the constant fatigue which mental health hangs around your neck like a mill stone and the vanishing self confidence, you need to speak to a human being, not an algorithm.

I am delighted Lord Stevenson and Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, are being appointed to carry out a review of support in the work place but this does not go far enough and there is no guarantee their advice will be implemented. Even if it is, bullying will still continue because it is so hard to prove. I have personally been fired from a job by a manager who told me one of my colleagues had a problem working with someone who had depression. When I asked them if anyone would have a problem working with someone who had diabetes, I was told 'of course not' - with no inkling of what they had just admitted or how discriminatory they were being.

I was not going to harm anyone else because of my depression: it's you your depression has a problem with, not other people. Other people are almost entirely irrelevant unless it's as a marker for how badly you are getting on in your life compared to the people around you who are doing life 'right'.

I like the direction you're going in, Mrs May, even if it is years behind the young Royals who have used their press following to highlight the problems that exist. But looking at your proposals, I really don't think it's going to do anything more than put more people on anti depressants whilst they join the end of a seemingly never-ending waiting list.

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