The size of the issue came as no surprise to those working with people experiencing mental health issues in Sheffield. Margaret Lewis, cheef Executive of Sheffield Mind, said: “We deliver thousands of counselling hours each year plus support work, accommodation services, Springboard Recovery cafes and a lot more. We’ve noticed an increase in demand over recent years and have increased our counselling opening hours in response.”
Healthwatch Sheffield is the local watchdog on health and social care services and often hears from people concerned about access to and the quality of mental health services.
This week we are bringing together representatives from across the local voluntary, community and faith sector to discuss the issue. Prime Minister Theresa May pushed mental health up the political agenda earlier in the year and the purpose of our meeting is to formulate what we want to ‘Tell Theresa’ about the situation in Sheffield and the actions we would like to see going forward.
Although public attitudes to mental ill health and awareness of it have improved hugely over recent years, it has never had equal status with physical health. Statistics show that mental ill health accounts for 28 per cent of all illness yet receives just 13 per cent of NHS funding. There can be long waits for mental health services and, nationally, one person in ten has to wait over a year to access talking therapies, although we understand the situation is better in Sheffield.
According to members of the public and mental health professionals who have spoken to us informally, this lack of support early on when people first experience mental health problems has a huge impact. They assert that people are unable to access the help they need until the symptoms have become severe or they are in crisis. This delay can impact the success of treatment and people’s ability to continue functioning fully in society. It also means that the services supporting people struggle to manage the situation. Aside from the huge social and personal cost, it is estimated that mental illness costs the economy more than £105 billion each year - roughly the cost of running the entire NHS.
National statistics suggest around one in five children has a mental health problem in any given year and three-quarters of those who suffer mental health issues throughout their lives has their first experience of this by the age of 25. Our Young Healthwatch group has taken a big interest in this area. They have organised an awareness and consultation meeting about CAMHS and are looking into doing some research on the subject with secondary school students.
Sara Gowan, managing director at Sheffield Young Carers, said: “Young carers are affected by parental mental illness and we are also concerned about the impact that caring has on their own emotional wellbeing. National research shows that over 40 per cent of young adult carers access mental health services as a result of their caring role.”
Statistics show that those with mental health issues have a lower life expectancy than the general population – at least ten years less. Although the reasons are complex, it is clear that those with mental health issues struggle to maintain a good standard of life. Many are unable to work consistently and can become isolated from friends and family. They are less likely to take good care of themselves or seek help for physical problems and if they do access healthcare services, are less likely to complete the treatment. It is also the case that those dealing with serious physical illness are far more likely to suffer mental illness.
However, the future offers hope for improvement. We recognise that local health and care leaders understand these issues and have a strong desire to tackle them. We were encouraged to hear about real progress being made in this area from Dr Mike Hunter, medical director at Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Foundation Trust.
“You often see stories in the media of how people are sent 30, 40, 50 miles away because beds aren’t available locally. We have changed all that in Sheffield, and no-one has needed to be sent to another town for acute inpatient care for over two years. Sheffield services are leading the way in this important area and our work has been recognised nationally.”
“Looking to the future, a key goal is to provide better access and more co-ordinated support and care for the many people in Sheffield who have physical and mental health care needs at the same time. With effective collaboration across general practice, health and social care services and local community organisations we want to really improve access to mental health support and treatment.”
Improving the mental health of local people is clearly a major challenge. It is critical that everyone involved in this area, whether in the NHS, Council, voluntary sector or local employers, works together effectively to deliver long term improvements to both the mental and physical health of local people.
To find out more about Healthwatch Sheffield, or to read our full report on mental health services, visit www.healthwatchsheffield.co.uk. Contact email [email protected] or call 0114 253 6688 for further details.