Mind the gap: supported through mental distress

More need support through periods of mental distress, says Paul Farmer from the charity Mind

Last month, the NHS independent taskforce on mental health published a five-year plan for improving mental health services in England.   As part of the taskforce’s work, we consulted with more than 20,000 people, including those with direct experience of mental health problems, frontline health professionals and others. 
Four key themes emerged from the beginning: prevention, early intervention when people become unwell, access to urgent care in a crisis and better integration of mental and physical health care.
In some ways, it is this last area that holds the most potential. Within our health system, mental and physical health are treated quite separately, yet it’s clear the two are closely linked. People with severe mental health problems die, on average, 15-20 years earlier than others, often from avoidable physical illnesses that might have been missed. Meanwhile, people with long-term physical illnesses experience more complications if they also develop mental health problems – increasing the cost of care by 45 per cent, on average. 
Dedicated mental health provision as part of an integrated service can substantially reduce these poor outcomes. Anyone working in physiotherapy will know that dealing with chronic pain can take a huge toll on mental wellbeing. Adjusting psychologically to the impact of living with pain can be hard. 
If a person develops depression, for example, it can have a direct impact on their physical recovery, affecting their motivation to look after themselves, do exercises and keep themselves physically fit. 
For this reason, the taskforce has, among its key recommendations, included a call to extend psychological support to an additional 600,000 people by 2020-21, with a particular emphasis on improving access for those living with long-term physical conditions. Helping people who are receiving treatment for a physical health problem cope with the emotional fallout of what they are going through can pay dividends, not just for the NHS but for the person themselves. Frontline health professionals are ideally placed to spot when someone might need some support with their mental health and start the conversation about how to access help.
  • Paul Farmer is chair of the NHS’s mental health taskforce and chief executive, Mind

Paul Farmer is chair of the NHS’s mental health taskforce and chief executive, Mind

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