Written by Helena Venables
Illustrated by Lucy Lorimer
Despite the ongoing efforts of NHS England to improve their mental health services, countless people are still walking away from 10 minute GP slots with the distressing recommendation to ‘come back in two weeks’ or even ‘take a long walk.’
Waiting lists and consequential delays in treatment are resulting in those affected suffering in silence. As it stands, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience mental health problems each year.
We should remember the phrase ‘mental health’ refers to a number of unique problems, ranging from depression to schizophrenia and anxiety to PTSD.
From a survey carried out by charity Mind in June 2018, GPs reported 2 in every 5 appointments involved discussion of mental health.
The OECD estimated mental ill-health is costing the UK economy more than £94 billion every year. This figure includes treatment, social support costs and the loss of those citizens unable to work.
This is a national crisis. Yet, the stigma around mental health is leaving countless people afraid to seek help or simply too disillusioned with the care system to bother.
So, as a nation, how can we implement change in the neglectful system and fight the statistics?
Talk about it.
I asked a student in Leeds who recently visited her GP for support with anxiety, depression and PTSD, what her experience had been.
Q. How many times have you been to see a professional for deteriorating mental health?
A. I’ve been about six times to the GP to talk about mental health issues over the last two years.
Q. In your own words – what do you struggle with regarding mental health?
A. I have anxiety and depression, but I was also suffering with PTSD which I managed to get counselling for through Leeds IAPT (Improving Adult Access to Psychological Therapies). I saw a therapist for 6 months which helped but as it’s free you only get a number of sessions.
To anyone who isn’t familiar with IAPT – In 2008, the IAPT programme was launched to transform the way adult anxiety disorders and depression were treated. As it currently stands, over 900,000 people access this service every year.
Q. Describe your experience the first time you went to see a GP for this
A. The first time I went to see a GP I was basically told off by the doctor. I went in and cried and was literally shaking, talking about how crap I felt. He just kept asking me why I felt the need to book an appointment and what I’m trying to get from the appointment. It was in front of a student doctor too which was even more embarrassing. I felt more shit leaving than I did going in.
Q. What treatment did they give you and are you still taking it now?
A. Each time I’ve been they offer me a range of leaflets and say things like: “You know, just going for a walk in the morning can really help”. I’ve only had one appointment where medication was brought up. I was prescribed Propanolol. One time I went in and after discussing what I was struggling with the doctor just looked at me and said: “So, you want a letter for uni?” I did, but it wasn’t the only reason I was there. He gave me my letter and showed me the door.
Q. Would you encourage others to visit a GP for mental health issues? Or would you suggest other avenues?
I would definitely encourage people to seek help through a GP, but just know that each doctor offers their personal advice, so it’s going to be a different experience for everyone.
Q. What do you think could be done to improve NHS England delivery of mental health treatment?
A. I think having someone available at your GP who specialises in mental health issues would be beneficial. That way you’d probably get better advice and treatment. As for services such as IAPT, I skipped the waiting list for treatment because my case was marked ‘severe’. This was after being told I could be waiting months to a year to see someone. They need much more funding, there are so many people suffering.
This January, The Guardian published an article by an anonymous GP delving into how qualified doctors are to soothe patients and provide holistic care in a ten minute appointment allocation.
The takeaway from this piece is disheartening. The writer admits the lack of professional knowledge regarding mental health amongst UK GPs, and reveals how monumental the challenge we are facing truly is.
In his budget speech last year, Chancellor of the Exchequer Phillip Hammond announced the Conservatives would be spending an extra £2 billion on mental health funding going forward. The government has recognised the severity of the issue and the budget to tackle the problem has expanded. If it is spent effectively, GPs should be provided with enough training to support patients struggling with mental health.
Edited by Ruby Hinchliffe