Last updated at 12:01AM, July 21 2012
At the age of 13, Pam’s son tried to take his own life for the first time. After many attempts he succeeded when he was 28, when he hanged himself.
During the intervening 15 years, as depression and anxiety took their toll and his mental health deteriorated, Pam and her family fought a constant battle to secure the care they knew he was entitled to.
Her biggest frustration was the failure of the many groups involved with his treatment, including the NHS, local authorities and charities, to work together. “I don’t know how many times he told his life story to yet another carer,” she said.
She believes this duplication caused unnecessary delays that interrupted his treatment and contributed to inappropriate care. When he died, in April 2010, it emerged that he had not taken his antidepressants for four months and had lost a quarter of his body weight.
Sonia, 31, has been battling against depression most of her adult life and knows all about long waiting lists and the poor delivery of care.
She now pays for private treatment because she feels she cannot rely on the NHS. To be able to afford her treatment she must remain in work, yet care is only ever available between 9am and 5pm, which means constantly taking time off and putting her job at risk. “It is incredibly important to me that I remain in work,” she said.
Next week the Government will relaunch its mental health strategy, amid growing concern that current provision is failing millions of people like Pam’s son and Sonia.
On Tuesday Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, will be joined by charities including Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, as well as the NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network, to urge the health service, schools, local authorities and housing associations to address shortcomings in the provision of care.
An “implementation framework” will be published, offering practical guidance to organisations that complain that it is unclear what is expected of them. But there is unlikely to be any additional funding.
The relaunch comes less than a month after a panel of experts headed by Lord Layard said that the NHS was failing to provide even the most basic treatment for mental illness to millions of people, with children particularly poorly served. Mental illness had reached an “horrific scale”, the panel said, and the under-treatment of the condition by the NHS “is a shocking form of discrimination”.
Some 18 months ago the Government published a strategy called No Health Without Mental Health that aimed to prevent mental ill health and intervene early when it occurs. But widespread changes to the health system have been taking place under the Health and Social Care Act, while mental health services have suffered cuts as a result of the drive for savings in the NHS. As a result, many feel that little is being done to implement the strategy.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “Having a strategy is only the first step. Action is what makes a real difference to people’s lives.”
One major obstacle to implementation is poor access to “talking therapies”, such as counselling, with waiting times typically extending beyond three months for an initial consultation, rising to six months for specialist help in some areas.
That is too long for many patients, and GPs are increasingly relying on medication to provide relief. Almost 47 million prescriptions for antidepressants were written last year.
Meanwhile, Pam, who now campaigns for better health services in the West Country, where she lives, is hoping that next week’s announcement really will mark a change in attitudes to treatment for mental illness. “It is essential to be hopeful,” she said. “I don’t want my son’s death to have been in vain.”
Lost in the system
One in four people will have a mental health problem at some point and one in six adults has a mental health problem at any one time.
One in ten children aged between 5 and 16 has a mental health problem
Half of those with lifetime mental health problems first experience symptoms by the age of 14, and three quarters before their mid-20s
Up to 13 per cent of 15 and 16-year-olds have self-harmed
Almost half of all adults will have at least one episode of depression
One in ten new mothers experiences postnatal depression
About one in 100 people has a severe mental health problem
Some 60 per cent of adults living in hostels have a personality disorder
About 90 per cent of all prisoners are estimated to have a diagnosable mental health problem
Source: No Health Without Mental Health: a cross-government mental health strategy, 2011
Find out about SANE's thoughts on the 'No Health Without Mental Health' strategy here.