If I was a volunteer for one of the myriad mental health charities which step in when official health services fail to deliver, I would be holding my own head in my hands.
I’ve just done the online test associated with the new ‘Every Mind Matters’ campaign launched by Public Health England and fronted by the Dukes and Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex.
As a result of my answers, I was pointed in the direction of some fairly helpful videos related to breathing exercises and the power of positive thinking, but found little I couldn’t access already with a couple of Google searches.
How is your mood? That’s the first question. For most people, the reply would depend entirely on what time of day/week it was. At 7.45 on a Thursday morning, when the train is late yet again, it’s likely to be very different to a Saturday evening with your feet up on the sofa. I can see the point of the site as a preventative measure, but if I was at the sharp end of dealing with someone with a serious mental health condition such as psychosis or schizophrenia I would find the whole thing trite and more than patronising.
As if breathing in and out a few times is going to calm the frenzied synapses of a friend or family member who is convinced there is a worldwide conspiracy to kill them? By attempting to embrace the small anxieties we all feel every day – work worries, money issues, never enough time – and full-blown psychiatric conditions, it tries too hard to encompass the whole spectrum. Any professional will tell you that the most important thing about mental health is that it is individual; no two people’s experiences are the same. Whilst some generalised measures do make a positive difference, there is no universal panacea, and certainly not online.
And I can’t help but comment on the irony of the timing; the launch coincided unhappily with Prince Harry’s savage attack on the Press, which has left many of us wondering whether he still has work to do on himself to come to terms with the tragic death of his mother, Diana. May I respectfully refer him to section five – “have you been worrying about anything? – and suggest that he pays particularly close attention to point five, “traumatic events”?
Meanwhile, recommendations for seeking urgent help lead to one of the already overburdened helplines such as the Samaritans – as well as family doctors.
Whilst accessing support quickly can literally be a matter of life and death, it is misleading to encourage vulnerable people to believe that such support is readily available, especially when a wait for a GP can take up to a fortnight.
The truth is that in many areas, people with mental health problems face a distressingly long haul to receive the counselling and medical help they need. One recent official survey of 500 diagnosed mental health patients found that some had waited up to 13 years to get appropriate treatment. Finding intervention for individuals whose minds are not working properly is not like having a hip replacement or appendix removed; it’s a demanding, challenging, twisting and turning ongoing process that shifts as quickly as a mind can spiral out of control.
In an ideal world, every patient would have a clear path of care with a dedicated consultant-led team. In reality – unless they have the means to pay privately – most people’s experience of mental health care is patchy at best. Harassed and overworked GPs often find themselves with no recourse but to prescribe anti-depressants whilst their patient sits and waits for the appointment to arrive. And meanwhile, family life and relationships deteriorate, jobs and homes are lost and nothing ever really gets ‘cured’ as such.
It’s reported that Every Mind Matters has cost £15m. I’d argue that some of this investment might have been better spent on improving services at the acute end of the mental health spectrum instead of encouraging people to medicalise what might simply be the stresses and strains of modern life. At present, one in 10 consultant psychiatrist posts remains unfilled in England, up from one in 20 in 2013.
The emphasis is firmly on self-care, but will enquiries to the Every Mind Matters website simply lead to a swelling in numbers of the ‘worried well’, who will end up exacerbating the demand for care and putting pressure on already-stretched GP services? When the website crashed as soon as it launched, the inevitable message ‘something went wrong’ flashed up on screen. It could be a very apt metaphor for the national state of mind.