21 September 2015

Crisis point

While I'm no fan of the new Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, I was pleased to hear him raise the question of failing mental health services at his first Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) last week. 

Mr Corbyn had taken the unusual step of inviting members of the public to tell him which issues they wanted him to bring up and more than 1,000 people raised concerns about mental health care. This seems to be an existing area of interest to Mr Corbyn, who attended an NHS mental health trust fundraiser on his first full day as Leader and appointed a Minister for Mental Health to his Shadow Cabinet.

One respondent apparently described the services in her area as being 'on their knees', echoing many of the participants in the BBC's recent mental health debate.

During this debate, a young woman who had suffered from anorexia nervosa told how she had contacted both her GP and local hospital when she weighed just 4 stone (25kg). However, she had been advised that her Body Mass Index* - weight-to-height ratio - needed to be lower before they could help her, ie she would have to lose yet more weight! By the time she finally secured treatment, she was just 3.5 stone (22kg). 

Another participant in the show had received the same 'advice', and recent research by the eating disorder charity, Beat, indicates that these are not isolated incidents. It's absolutely mind-boggling that this sort of thing happens at all. 

Imagine applying the same approach to physical ailments. If eczema covered 25% of a patient's body, would they be turned away until the proportion was 50%? Would medical staff allow conditions such as anaemia or an over-active thyroid to get wildly out of control before treating them?

People are often less sympathetic towards those with a mental, rather than physical, illness. No wonder, when the same disparity even appears to exist within the medical profession - or, at least, within its treatment protocols.

At PMQs, Prime Minister David Cameron admitted there were problems with some mental health services and agreed the Government could do more. However, he went on to say, 'We will not have a strong NHS unless we have a strong economy.' 

A key way to boost the economy is, of course, to get more people back into work - including those with mental health problems. For many, however, that won't happen without proper treatment.

Image courtesy of cbenjasuwan/FreeDigitalPhotos.net
One comment during the BBC debate was that mental health care is in danger of becoming a 'crisis-only' service. For the sake not only of the individuals concerned, but also the country and its economy, the government must reverse this decline as a matter of urgency. 

We may be in a catch-22 situation, but surely we'll never be able to fix anything, until we fix the state of the nation's health?

*An index used to ascertain whether someone is under- or overweight, calculated by dividing their weight in kilograms by the square of their height in metres.

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