Wednesday, 13 August 2014

After the death of a Hollywood icon we ask: how effective are mental health treatments in Bermondsey?

We all have mental health – some of us good and some of us, including the actor Robin Williams who died this week, not so good.  But, are treatments for mental health in Bermondsey, all that they’re cracked up to be – or are they simply cracking up?

Robin Williams ©
According to the Mental Health Foundation, 1 in 4 of us will experience some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year, with mixed anxiety and depression being the most common disorder; this rises to 9 in 10 for prisoners.  And it gets worse: British men are three times more likely to die at their own hands than women, with suicide being the most common cause of death for men under 35.  Worryingly around 10% of children have a mental health problem at any one time, with 20% experiencing problems in any given year according to the Office for National Statistics.   

So, with these shocking statistics affecting ordinary Bermondsey men, women and children, does the size of the response match the scale of the problem? Well, although projects such as Time to Change have contributed towards greater openness and understanding in Britain, there’s still a long way to go - especially within the mental health profession.

Robin Williams’ valiant life-long battle ended tragically.  But, what exactly is changing in our approach to treatment?  Well, not a lot if NHS and government policy are anything to go by.  Mental health has always been the poor relation.  According to psychiatrist Dr Ed Mitchell, mental health receives only 11% of NHS funding, but accounts for over 22% of the ‘burden of disease’.  This hasn’t changed much under governments of different colours.  It’s time to admit that we treat patients on the cheap.  Research and facilities have been under-funded for decades, resulting in peeling paint, depressing rooms, paper-thin walls and treatment that is far from tailor-made to the individual.

Just how pioneering are our mental health trusts?
In reality, there are three main stumbling blocks that stand in the way of better patient care:  

First, there’s an over-reliance on prescribing talking therapies, such as CBT, and medication, at the expense of other treatments and approaches that could complement talking to a trained therapist.  Prescribing art, music, dance, sport, exercise, motivational coaches and work-related tasks are radical ideas that would involve private providers working in partnership with the NHS.  Ask any psychiatrist and they will tell you that treatment is less of a science and more of an art – so let’s start experimenting.  Sticking slavishly to top-down guidelines and clinical studies that perpetuate the status quo denies patients holistic treatment. 
How tailor-made are today's treatments?
Second, there is a lack of patient choice, both of provider and treatment type: Henry Ford would have loved it – “you can have any mental health Trust as long as it’s your local one”.  Current proposals to introduce choice are not far-reaching enough.  Choice, supported by published patient outcomes and performance data, need not be part of an ideological agenda - it’s about patient-centred care.

Can art and sport help? The Crucifix Lane skateboard park.
And, third, we must tackle the causes of poor mental health, so that problems do not develop in the first place.  According to the charity MIND, social isolation, poverty, homelessness, unemployment and childhood abuse and trauma can all trigger being unwell.  Add to that unstable families, and the breakdown of traditional support networks at home and within the community, and you have a nightmare waiting to happen.  All of us in Bermondsey must accept responsibility - families, neighbours, community and individuals - working together to support each other rather than passing the buck to the NHS.
The good news for Bermondsey is that things are changing. The innovative Dragon Café provides ‘a relaxing café and imaginative space' located in the Crypt of St George the Martyr church, opposite Borough tube station’.  With creativity at its heart, the café provides healthy food, and a wide range of activities including singing, boxing and massage.  While the Open Door resource centre on Jamaica Road offers individual and group support activities five days a week.  But, more is needed to cater for Bermondsey’s one in four.
Robin Williams in the 1970s series 'Mork and Mindy' (Image from Wikipedia)
Sadly, poor mental health is no respecter of age, profession and bank balance - Robin Williams demonstrates that.  But, more money, greater community responsibility and progressive and innovative approaches will give the people of Bermondsey choice, quality treatment and perhaps most importantly, new life.

More information:

Lambeth and Southwark MIND

Dragon Cafe

Time to Change

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