At the age of 21, Adam Bradford was left shouldering the responsibility of utility bills and caring for his family after his dad was unexpectedly sent to prison.
This sudden turn of events hung over the household like a dark cloud, with many questions left unanswered, and it wasn’t long before Adam sank into a severe depression, which eventually led to suicidal thoughts.
To this day, Adam says, he hasn’t had any counselling or therapy, despite going to his GP to ask for help. Like many people in the UK, he was told there would be a 12-18 month wait for counselling and was sent home with a prescription for antidepressants and promises of future support.
Since then he’s been back to the doctor – both in Sheffield, where he’s from, and London where he now lives – for support regarding his mental health. On one occasion, the service was so stretched he was sent onto A&E, where he waited for almost three hours for a two-minute consultation. The result? He was given some more antidepressants and sent away.
There’s no denying UK mental health services are under mounting pressure, which is why the Chancellor Philip Hammond has pledged a minimum of £2 billion a year to NHS mental health services in Monday’s Budget announcement and promised that crisis centres will be placed in every A&E unit across the country. But is it enough?
“NHS mental health services have been underfunded for decades and we know that too often, people don’t get the help and support they need, when they need it,” Paul Farmer, chief executive of mental health charity Mind, tells HuffPost UK.
“This commitment ahead of the long term plan indicates that mental health is rightly high on the government’s agenda, and has the potential to improve access to care, once detailed plans are clear.”
Brian Dow, from Rethink Mental Illness, says £2 billion might not actually be enough. “The government’s commitment to securing parity between mental and physical health is welcome, but a report last week by the think tank IPPR, supported by Rethink Mental Illness, for the first time put the actual price tag of parity at £4.1 billion by 2023,” he says. “That’s double what was announced today.”
“The reality is that at the moment, those who are most unwell are waiting the longest and receiving the worst care, and that’s what now needs to be addressed.”
“I felt really stuck, I couldn’t even explain properly what I needed.””
Sally Wadwha, 37, from London, is one of those who feels let down by the current system. After fleeing a violent relationship in August 2016, she was inundated with paperwork and assessments, but felt there was no help for her mental state.
“I started to realise I needed some support a month after I left,” she explains. “I went to the doctor and explained the situation that I had, the pressure I was under and looking after the children.
“I felt really stuck, I couldn’t even explain properly what I needed.”
Wadwha claims her GP told her she could go on a waiting list for counselling support, with a typical wait of four months. She could have been given priority over others, however it would still have meant a matter of months. She also felt bad about being prioritised over others who had waited for longer.
Two weeks after her first appointment, Sally agreed to take medication. Her GP also recommended calling Mind to see if it could help further. But on calling the charity, Sally realised she would have to travel for counselling and pay around £35 a session, which she says she couldn’t afford at the time.
It wasn’t until the following January that Sally got proper help and was finally diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The social services had got in touch to support Sally as a mum of young children fleeing domestic violence, and they arranged counselling via the local family centre.
It was through the NHS, but just a different pathway – one she never would have known about if it wasn’t for social services.
“I got counselling through them for a couple of months and it was there that I was told I had PTSD,” she says. “If I had just carried on taking the pills, it could have gone undiagnosed and just made things more confusing for me during this journey.”
Melissa Jones*, 31, from York, worries that young people aren’t getting the same level of support she once had and calls the waiting times “alarming”.
Her concerns come just one week after figures revealed there’s been a steep rise in the number of A&E appearances by young people with psychiatric conditions.
The Department of Health and Social Care said in 2017-18 there were 27,487 attendances in A&E by young people aged 18 or under with a recorded diagnosis of a psychiatric condition. This figure has almost doubled since 2012-13, when there were 13,800 equivalent attendances, and has almost tripled since 2010.
Melissa was diagnosed with depression at the age of 14 and was put on antidepressants. She also attended a local youth mental health programme where the waiting time for support was less than a month. “When I went to uni, I went back into that depressive state and the waiting list [for mental health support] was a bit longer but I still got a good quality service,” she explains.
“I’ve noticed over the last five years or so it’s become practically impossible to access these services. In 2016, I tried to access some counselling services and I had to wait a year and a half.”
Melissa had counselling once a week for 12 weeks and, looking back, feels that she definitely could have benefited from more: “It wasn’t enough time for me.” But if she wants counselling again, it’s another year and a half of waiting.” I would have loved to have accessed counselling privately,” she adds. “But I just couldn’t afford that.”
The cost of private counselling can vary depending on where a person lives, with a session costing anywhere between £10 and £70.
Reluctantly, Melissa is now back on antidepressants, despite knowing deep down she needs more counselling support. “I still have depression, it’s not as bad as it was,” she says. “I’ve just had to learn to cope with it.
“It’s either cope with it or have a complete meltdown.”
* Some names have been changed.