MENTAL health issues need to stop being seen as a medical problem and as a part of everyday life.
Dr Tim Lee, clinical lead for mental health on Redditch and Bromsgrove Clinical Commissioning Group, has set out plans to radically change the way people suffering mental health problems are treated, in an interview with the Standard to mark World Mental Health Day.
While most people will associate mental illness with severe conditions such as schizophrenia, the reality is the vast majority of those classed with a mental health problem will be at the much lower end of the scale. By the end of this decade more than 9,000 people in Redditch will suffer from a generalised anxiety disorder or mild depression as a result of the stresses and strains of dealing with everyday life. It is estimated one in four people will have a mental health problem in their lifetime.
Despite that mental health accounts for just 11 per cent of the NHS budget yet is responsible for 22.8 per cent of the burden of disease.
Dr Lee said he believed there were many reasons why mental health lagged behind physical health, including the fact it was not as straightforward to treat, but the NHS was finally waking up to the fact mental health issues could not be solved by doctors alone.
“Low level mental health is not a medical problem. It comes into the medical sphere because there is nowhere else for it to go and medicine doesn’t do a very good job of handling it because that’s not what it was set up for.” he said.
“We know 50 per cent of people at some point in their lifestyle will cross the threshold for depression or anxiety or whatever, and the query there is does that make it an illness? If you have a normal distribution of humanity and 50 per cent of people are going to have a condition, then really that tells you that condition is part of normal life, it’s not an illness.
“The problem with referring to mental health services is it implies people have an illness and that’s not a very good labelling strategy, it is sending out the wrong message on a society level.”
Dr Lee and the CCG are currently embarking on a major redesign of the mental health treatment pathway. Details are still being worked up but essentially the idea is to create a hub which would connect services currently being offered by various organisations. The service will also have the ability to tackle the multiple-factors behind anxiety or depression, even if responsibility for resolving each issue lies with a different organisation.
“The biggest problem with all this is there are services out there but there is no overarching umbrella so the plan is to build one.” Dr Lee added.
“If someone comes to me with mild depression there’s no point me giving them Prozac and a good talking to because actually what we need to do is sort out their housing, job, family dynamics, neighbours, debt, smoking, drug use – unless we attack each of those factors there is no difference I am going to make to their mild depression or anxiety.”
The service is still at least 12 to 18 months from being up and running and faces many barriers, not least how it will be funded and by who, but similar schemes are already running elsewhere in the UK and early indications are it is making a difference.
And that gives Dr Lee hope they can finally deliver a service which will provide more appropriate support, in a timely way, to the growing number of people clamouring for help but struggling to find it.
“We have to look at each bit of the jigsaw that is causing this person distress, there is no point in painting a picture on one piece of jigsaw if the rest of it is blank.”