Talking about mental health

It was Time to Talk Day a few days ago, the creation of mental health charity Time to Change. Every year they encourage us all to take five minutes to have a conversation about mental health.

Last year, Healthwatch Essex published a report into the experiences of mental health service users and carers in Essex. Experiences varied, but many people highlighted the importance of feeling listened to and being believed by healthcare professionals. Others said that they wished to have more choice and control when it came to their treatment.

Some felt that people at the top of the NHS and social care – people who are responsible for commissioning and providing services – didn’t ask service users what they needed.

As one person told us, ‘There are a lot of assumptions in the service about what the patient needs and wants and that’s not the way it should be. It should be them asking us “what do we need and what do we want?”

Many service users reported having good experiences with healthcare professionals, which is welcome news. One participant, for example, reported how his GP put him at ease by saying that he had been absolutely right to make an appointment about how he was feeling.

But many of our participants reported far less positive experiences. In fact, our study found that mental health is still not very well understood and that some healthcare professionals need to show more skills in listening and empathy so that patients feel listened to and understood.

Some people expressed concerns about the type of treatment they’d been prescribed. One person told us, “My GP signed me off work and that was the only thing he was interested in doing. He didn’t offer anything else in order for me to cope, such as medication or therapy.”

Others explained that they were often just told what kind of therapy had been assigned to them, rather than having been given a choice or some involvement in the decision.

People reported how different treatments helped them in different ways. Some found medication and counselling helpful, but others found art therapy really helped them to manage their symptoms. This suggests that a ‘one size fits all’ approach isn’t always useful.

Given how complex and little-understood mental health issues can be, patients are often the experts in their condition, and so if a way to manage the condition can be found, it will often be in consultation with the patient.

We passionately believe that engaging people and involving them in decisions about health and social care will lead to better outcomes. Not only for the individuals themselves, but also for health and social care professionals. And it might even save money too!