27 June 2011

The State of Mental Health in the UK

Hey all, I know it's been a long time since I've posted.  So you know, everything is going really well and I'm starting maternity leave in just a few weeks!

What I really wanted to discuss is my frustration with the way mental health is dealt with in the UK.

Two years ago, my husband had a bad breakdown which led to him being put on both an antidepressant (citalopram) and a very strong anxiety medication (stelazine) which is actually classed as an antipsychotic.  These were prescribed by our GP who has no special training in mental health treatment.  This was also after a different doctor at our GP told him to take a bubble bath and "think happy thoughts" rather than actually treat what was going on.

Since then, despite numerous complaints about his medication not working or bad side effects, my husband's medication "treatment" hasn't been reviewed.  Not only is he on extremely strong drugs which he was put on right after a severe episode, the doctors haven't even bothered to check in on him to make sure that the medication is actually working for him.

The majority of people I've spoken to in the UK who have been or are currently on antidepressants are on citalopram (Celexa in the US).  What the healthcare providers in the UK don't seem to know, realize or accept is that everyone is different and it's not a matter of giving everyone the same drug and leaving it at that.  Sometimes it take a year or more to find the right medication or combination of medications for a person.  The NHS doesn't seem to care though and treats everyone like they're the same person.

Medication itself is not even a complete treatment.  If someone is prescribed medication, then probably 95% of the time, they should have some sort of mental therapy.  Even if it's seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist once ever few months.  Throwing pills at a problem is not the answer.

Knowing this, we have done everything in our power to get better treatment for my husband, but the doctors don't want to hear it.  They refuse to refer him to a specialist and when one time he came close to it, we were told he could not be accepted because he wasn't suicidal.  Is that what it takes to be taken seriously?  So people have to prove they're depressed and need help by trying to kill themselves?

This whole time, it's been a struggle for my husband and I firmly believe that he'd be exactly the same if he were off the medication.  In fact, he wouldn't have to deal with the annoying side effects so he might even feel better than he does now.

Even after my husband had a severe panic attack last week, he went to the GP for an emergency appointment and was seen by the "bubble bath" doctor who only increased his medicine.  He didn't bother trying him on something new which might actually work.  He didn't ask how everything has been going and see if maybe they should try something else.

Having a mental health disorder myself (bipolar disorder) and coming from a country where I was able to get bespoke and informed treatment, it's incredibly frustrating for me to see the way that the NHS, which UK residents pay for, treats mental health, particularly when someone I love is involved.

The worst thing is that there seems to be nothing I can do about it.  The doctors won't listen no matter how firm I am, the NHS site only says this about treatment: People with mental health problems need help and support to enable them to cope with their illness. There are many treatments, including medication, counsellingpsychotherapy and self help. It is important that people with mental illnesses are told about the options available so they can decide which treatment suits them best.

I'm guessing that doctors don't read the NHS site very often.

If anyone knows who I can write to about this, please let me know.  I don't think I'll be able to do anything alone but I'd love to make my voice heard.  And I'm sure I'm not the only one.