Imagine being in a situation where you have had months of no sleep, you have lost over 15 kilos in weight when you were already under weight and you cannot do anything but ruminate over problems. You go to your GP, he gives you some shiny pills then tells you to book an appointment in a few weeks, and offers you no therapy or treatment. A few weeks later your mental health deteriorates to a point where you consider self-harm.
That was my story and I am lucky because I am here to tell it. I paid privately for treatment as the only other option was being sectioned under the Mental Health Act, which could have had devastating consequences for my financial and employment prospects. Luckily this episode is well behind me and my life has moved on to a much better place.
Sadly many cannot because they do not have the financial means, or support of family or friends to get through it. Around 4400 people end their own lives in England each year – that’s one death every two hours – and at least 10 times that number attempt suicide.
From my own experience of mental health on the NHS there are so many ways it could be improved I could write a book about it but I will try to sum it up.
GPs are not trained psychologists. They should not be the ones who prescribe anti-depressants which have hugely different impacts from person to person. The side effects vary enormously.
In addition there is no proper follow-up in the primary care system. Why is it that GPs do not have a system where they need to contact the patient for a follow up to see how they are progressing once the medication kicks in or have an emergency contact number for any patient who is on anti-depressant/psychotic medication?
The NHS needs to be much more focused on prevention rather than having to end up in a situation where people are admitted to hospital when it’s too late. Why is it that the long term unemployed cannot be offered Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in order to improve their self-esteem and at the same time make it more likely that they will find a job?
Medication should be a short term fix for those with depression but for the busy GP it’s quicker just to write our yet another prescription and move on to one of the ten patients waiting in the waiting room.
When it comes to children, some are being locked up in mental health hospitals literally hundreds of miles from their home. This is nothing short of a scandal. Would you be happy if your child lived with you in London and was sent to Newcastle for a broken leg because there was no space to treat them near your home?
Many parents do not have any real information as to how to spot the warning signs of depression or potential suicide. We all need to be educated as to what to look for especially when our family and friends are struggling with exam stress, relationship break up, financial problems, job losses or even changes to their physical appearance. Looking back I realise now how mental health is a very selfish problem – one becomes so focused on one’s own problems that you lose interest in everyone around you when you are in the tunnel of depression. I have the most amazing wife and it was her help as well as that of my and her family and friends that helped me to recover. None of those people around me had received any help or training on how to help me.
We as a society need to change our approach to mental health. In Argentina where I recently spent a year friends and colleagues talk openly about “going to be seen”, a reference to seeing a psychologist. We need to mirror that approach in the UK.
Norman Lamb, the former Health Minister and a Norfolk MP has been simply outstanding at championing the issue of mental health in our society and he was the reason for me becoming a member of the Liberal Democrats last year. I hope that the government will continue to listen to his advice and experiences like mine to make the UK a better place for those with mental health challenges.
* Chris Key is dad of two girls, multilingual and internationalist. Lib Dem member in Twickenham who likes holding local council and MPs to account.