The Education System is Failing Mentally Ill and Disabled Students

December 20, 2019 at 12:05 pm

Content note: this article contains references to self-harm, suicide, depression and trauma.

“There’s not enough money.” This is the response we get when we question the poor quality of the mental health services in university. I wonder what the point in lying is when we see another brand-spanking-new building go up whilst Wellbeing sits in some cold, wrecked part of the campus that no one really knows how to get to.

Of course, I’m lucky to be in university at all. I’ve struggled with mental health issues from a young age which often interferes with my education. The lack of understanding and funding around mental illness has led to me, and thousands of other students, to miss out on receiving vital care through school, college and university. But it appears that the system doesn’t care, focusing on driving up grades and putting more pressure on students instead of helping them through adversity. Students who struggle with their mental health are being failed by the education system and it’s not fair. It needs a complete reform.

 

The Trauma of School

One major obstacle in receiving the right care is the lack of knowledge around the subject. A common misconception (especially back when I was in secondary school) is that conditions such as depression are just a momentary dip in emotions which you can easily “get over”. It’s rare that people outside of the profession actually treat it for what it is: an illness.

At the age of 14, my mental illnesses had just been loitering around a door in my mind. When I lost someone close to suicide, they were able to kick down that door with great force. At the time, this situation was new and scary. I tried to be open as possible about what I was experiencing; I was confused and didn’t want to feel this way. However, my cries for help went unnoticed and because of this, I started self-harming and isolating myself from my friends.

I was showing obvious signs of depression. Some of my friends at the time would even come up to me and say that I ‘seemed depressed’. I started restricting my food intake and losing a lot of weight in a short amount of time. This led to one staff member believing she had the right to single me out in front of my classmates and accuse me of being anorexic. Every day she would comment on my weight. One time, I was sat in her office because I was feeling unwell. She took this as another opportunity to ridicule my weight loss. After asking me if I had eaten breakfast (the answer was no), she opened up a biscuit tin and put it on my lap.

“You can’t leave here until you eat at least four biscuits,” she said.

I refused.

She took out four custard creams, placed them on the table next to me and said: “Eat these or you can’t leave.”

To this day, I have no idea if she truly believed if she was being helpful, but I promise you her actions were far from it.

Oh, and I didn’t eat the damn biscuits.

 

Passing Down the Torch

Instead of offering me exam help when I was constantly throwing up due to anxiety, I was told it was “probably just your period”. When I skipped school because I was feeling suicidal, I was put in after-school detention. They could have helped me. They could have pointed me in the right direction and educated both students and staff on mental health. Instead, students mocked those who were in so much turmoil that their only way to cope was to hurt themselves. “We don’t have a bullying problem,” the headteacher would say.

In the end, I didn’t even turn up to my last day of school or my school prom. I no longer cared, I wanted nothing more to do with the place. However, it wasn’t that easy because I had two younger siblings who were still at the school and they were put through hell too. They put my whole family through hell.

Due to my sister’s mental conditions, she struggled with school straight away and instead of helping her, they tried to prosecute my mum over my sister’s attendance. From day one, my mum told the school that my sister was likely to have a mental disability and they didn’t listen to her. Years later, professional diagnoses proved her right.

I sat through one of the many meetings they forced my mum to attend, and to describe them as brutal was an understatement. They made her feel like a terrible mother and forced her to punish my sister rather than getting to the bottom of what was actually wrong. They completely broke the relationship between my mum and sister and worsened both of their mental health. In the meeting I sat in, they made sure my mum wasn’t even a part of the conversation. She sat in silence as they ridiculed her parenting and discussed more ways to punish my sister for not turning up to school. Eventually, my mum snapped and said: “Hang on, aren’t I supposed to be the mother here?” I sat back in my chair, wide-eyed, as did my brother. We couldn’t hide our pride for our mother finally sticking up for herself. It encouraged us to finally give them a piece of our mind as well.

For years they continued to make my sister feel like she was a misbehaving child who deserved to be singled out. They made her feel the way they made me feel – completely alone and unheard. Eventually, after the advice from the NHS, my mum decided that enough was enough and pulled my sister out of school. It was the best thing she had ever done.

My sister started college at the age of 15 (which she’s still attending now) and overall, this institution has been a lot better at handling her mental health, as they were with mine. This seems to be something that people generally agree on: the mental health and wellbeing services get better as you progress higher in education. That being said, they’re far from perfect or even acceptable in most cases.

 

The Problem is in the System…

College seemed more focused on boosting attendance ratings and, as a system, they seemed to care little as to why some students weren’t turning up. Of course, it’s important to note that the government put a lot of pressure on these institutions, and colleges rely on attendance levels for their funding. In fact, since austerity measures have been put in place, the college I attended has lost 43% of their funding each year. It’s the wellbeing services that are hit the hardest due to these cuts, as well as the jobs of those who work within these services.

Another problem with the system is the lack of communication. Once a school’s legal obligation over a student is removed, they become even colder than before. It took me a year to find out that my school hadn’t even bothered telling my college about my issues. Unless you count them saying I was “a bit suicidal” which I don’t. It felt like college assumed that I was just lazy, and they made no effort to keep me in education after I told them I was dropping out in my first year. They had no idea how high my level of anxiety was. Just attempting to turn up to one class would trigger a panic attack.

Even with university, which I was expecting a more open and accepting atmosphere from, the attitude of “Oh just turn up, we all have problems”, lurks in the classrooms and lecture halls. This punishment, which is adapted in all levels of education, doesn’t help anyone and only builds up anxiety around coming back into lectures after a crisis. And even though the university receives over 9 grand a year from all their students, somehow their wellbeing services are still underfunded. It appears to be clear that they just want to tick boxes which is a shame because I have heard some universities in the country go out of their way to make sure their students feel supported. However, my university seems more interested in the walking pound signs they call students.

Either way, it’s clear to see that this problem is systematic and requires serious input from those in higher positions of power. The government need to stop cutting the budgets of schools and colleges because it’s the wellbeing services that get hit first, and the struggling students have to pay the price. If universities just want to tick boxes so they can focus their money elsewhere, then make the boxes harder to tick. There’s also a desperate need to educate both students and teachers on mental health and the effects it can have on education. Instead of lecturers or coursemates telling me that I just need to suck it up and turn up to class, it would be nice to have at least a little support and understanding. After weeks of not leaving your bed or not seeing anyone else other than medical professionals because of a crisis, the last thing you want is to return to a room full of judgemental huffs and puffs.

 

…Not with the Hard-Working Teachers

If you look beyond the structured system, you will find an army of staff and teachers who are willing to fight for you – such as my learning mentor in college who made me feel comfortable enough to burst into his office with bright red, mascara stained cheeks when he was just about to take another mouthful of his lunch. He put it down and allowed me to sit and talk through things. Or my tutor and co-tutor in school who fought against the head teacher for me after he put me in after-school detention and treated me as a delinquent. And my college tutor, who during my last week in college, made our group stand around in a circle and say one nice thing about each other. She called me brave.

So many teachers and staff have supported me throughout the years and there’s too many to name. But I have to mention my English lecturer from college who was so understanding of what I was going through and still pushed me to get an A in my coursework – something that I didn’t even believe I was capable of, but she did. After my last class with her, I stayed behind and thanked her for everything she had done for me. I couldn’t have done it without her support. As I left, someone else walked in and asked her why she was crying. Boy, was that fun to explain when I was late for my next class: “Sorry, I made my English lecturer cry.”

Even now in university, as much as I love to complain about it, I can’t deny that I’m incredibly lucky to have such wonderful lecturers. Just last week, I walked out of class because my anxiety was breaking down all my walls. My lecturer followed me, calmed me down and asked what he could do to make things easier for me. He made it clear that my wellbeing was more important and that I was more than welcome to go home.

It’s sometimes hard to believe but there are people out there who care. There are students, teachers and staff who want to make things fairer for all. Together, we are capable of changing things for the better.

The education system is failing those of us with mental illnesses and disabilities when we could be just as capable as any “healthy” student and can go just as far. Instead of building us up and pushing us to achieve our dreams, they’re pushing us aside and making us feel worthless. But it doesn’t have to be this way and we have the strength within us to fight this.

 

This blog was written by Charlotte Emily Shields. Charlotte is a Creative and Professional Writing student at the University of the West of England, Bristol. Charlotte runs her own blog on politics and mental health, which you can find here.

December 20, 2019 at 12:05 pm | Blog | No comment

Exploring Mental Health Stigma

December 3, 2019 at 5:40 pm

[Content note; this article contains references to mental health stigma and anxiety]

I’ve been stung one too many times from your innocent quip. The joking manner you use to soothe the sting does nothing but help your conscious.

I am not lazy. I am not ‘just worried.’ I am not ‘mute.’

I have a heart that beats so fast, I wonder if it will tire itself out.

I have a mind that tells me I am ‘weird’, ‘boring’ and ‘unlovable.’

No, I do not want to miss out on the fun.

But I fear if I come, I will be once more stung.

I wish I could be like you.

All wide-eyes with a pep in your step.

Charming everyone with your infectious laughter

I’ll go home after

And wish once more that I could be just a bit like you.

 

There’s nothing braver than putting on a smile for the world when your mind is slowly crumbling. You’ve had enough of your mental illness making you seem like you’re no fun. And what your friends think of as ‘helpful’ comments just dig the knife in harder.

Mental illness has for far too long been seen as something shameful or preventive. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve heard just calm down, it’s not that bad, surely?; or you’re not trying hard enough. These comments often add to the guilt of not feeling ‘better already.’ Of course, positive thinking and extra encouragement CAN be helpful, but it’s rarely as simple as that.

People struggling with their mental health often don’t want advice (unless you’re a professional that they’re seeking help from). You wouldn’t offer your opinion on marathon training if you’d never ran a mile in your life. So, why believe that mental illness is something people can just ‘snap’ out of?

The main reason for there still being so much stigma floating around is due to lack of proper education about the issue. The only uttered words surrounding mental illness in school came from my Religious Education teacher who referred to depression as a ‘dark and spooky place’ complete with jazz hands and a stupid expression for effect.

It makes me feel overwhelmingly sad that in 2019 people still feel they cannot talk about their struggles; either as a result of fearing not being taken seriously, or the worry that people won’t look at them the same or even thoughts of rejection. Don’t get me wrong, I know that it’s near impossible to imagine what a person suffering is going through. But the first step is kindness. Kindness and patience.

When I was at the peak of my anxiety disorder, I knew some of the ways I acted seemed ridiculous. Of course, I knew walking to the corner shop on my own should be a simple task. But it wasn’t, and I couldn’t articulate the thoughts that circled around in my head without feeling stupid. But no one should feel like that.

Until proper education is introduced throughout places of work and education, our best tool is to listen. If you suspect someone you know isn’t well, ask if they want to talk; ask if there’s anything you can do to help them feel better. But be patient. Sometimes they won’t feel up to talking about it or hanging out. To let them know you’re there for them and meaning it is more than enough. The bigger our support network, the bigger chance there is of getting them on to the path of stronger mental health and recovery.

This blog has been shared by Meg Headford, a student at the University of the West of England (Bristol), studying Creative and Professional Writing. Meg writes a blog covering mental health and lifestyle, which you can find here.

December 3, 2019 at 5:40 pm | Blog | No comment

OCD Awareness Week 2019

October 15, 2019 at 10:31 pm

 

It is a common misconception that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) means being neat, tidy, clean and organised. For those living with OCD, there’s far more too it than that. OCD is a debilitating disorder which leads the sufferer living with intrusive thoughts rendering day-to-day life a living nightmare.

OCD Awareness Week runs annually during the second full week of October. That’s this week! The aim of the Week is to educate the public about the realities of living with OCD and the challenge of having to face up to the realities of the condition on the path to recovery. Misunderstanding and stigma that can be caused by misrepresentation of OCD, particularly in the media, can be hugely damaging. OCD Awareness Week sets out to tackle this.

This Year’s Campaign

The October campaign was originally started by the International OCD Foundation (a US-based charity) in 2009, and is supported by a number of OCD charities.

  • OCD Action are tying into the Week by running #3forOCD; where they ask people in the community to share their top 3 things that they wish people understood about OCD, using the hashtag #3forOCD. They are also supporting the Picture Your OCD project.
  • OCD UK are publishing a series of handouts designed specifically to educate the public on the reality of OCD as a mental health condition, designed to bust myths and misconceptions
  • the International OCD Foundation are inviting all members of the OCD and related disorders community to participate in #FaceYourFear, a social media campaign to educate the public about the realities of living with OCD and the challenge of having to face your fears on the path to recovery. Read more about the campaign and hashtag here. 

BIMHN’s Work Around OCD

The Bristol Independent Mental Health Network (BIMHN) are working to support those living with OCD, and break down mental health stigma surrounding both the condition and mental health generally. Tracy, one of the trustees of the Independent Mental Health Network, our parent charity, is working to set up a local OCD Social Support Group. Following on from Lifting the Myth of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a very successful open discussion event that took place earlier this year, Tracy is looking to hold further meet-ups.

If you are interested in Tracy’s work, or would like to attend the next OCD Support Group meeting (provisionally set for November), please feel free to email Tracy directly at tracy_tainton[@]yahoo.co.uk (taking out the brackets from the email address).

October 15, 2019 at 10:31 pm | Blog | No comment

Mental Health and My Identity – World Mental Health Day 2019

October 10, 2019 at 6:02 pm

This blog was written by a member of BIMHN, sharing their thoughts on what how they’ve learnt to see mental health as a part of their identity. Content note; medication, depression, mental health treatment, recovery, relapse.

Today, on World Mental Health Day 2019, I am reflecting on my own mental health.

My story is thus; about five years ago, I began experiencing symptoms of mental ill-health that eventually developed into a full-blown episode of clinical depression. Without sensationalising it, my life ground to a halt for six months. As someone who had taken pride in never sitting still, it’s an understatement to say that experiencing this for the first time was a shock to my system.

Gradually however, with the aid of medication(s) and a gradual return to work, I began to improve. During this time of adjustment, I was fixated on ‘getting better’; returning to a facsimile of my life and state of mind before this first period of being unwell. Occasionally, I was able to attain this for a brief period; a few hours of enthusiasm here, a day of productivity there, spells of regular sleeping and motivation. But I couldn’t make it last.

I treated this inability to sustain ‘being better’ as a setback – proof that in reality I wasn’t ‘better’ and ‘recovery’ still eluded me.

I lost faith in medicine as an effective means of treatment, because it didn’t put me back to where I was before I became ill. My outlook was that I needed to find something to ‘jolt’ me back to where I was before my first period of mental ill-health – the fact that I hadn’t found this yet was proof that I wasn’t doing something right.

After a while, a pattern began to emerge; every few months, I would become unwell for a time – life would again grind to a halt – before stabilising again. I took this as a further sign that my efforts to ‘get better’ continued to be focused in the wrong direction. With the support of professionals, I re-started taking medication, but remained sceptical because it hadn’t worked for me before.

However, this time, it seemed to at least make something of a difference.

Fast forward a few years, and more recently, I’ve been hearing and learning more about other people’s mental health, and what that’s involved for them. I’ve met people who have been seriously unwell for a very long time. I’ve heard about their despair when they feel shoehorned into a model of ‘symptom-free recovery’ rather than ‘wellbeing.’

Some chronic physical conditions might never fully ‘go away,’ – why isn’t it accepted that the same might be the case with mental illness?

It’s only been over the last few months that I’ve finally been able to get past my obsession with getting to a stage where I’m completely symptom-free. I’ve learnt to forgive myself for the fact that it might not be possible, at least immediately. My personal mental health difficulties and fluctuations are a part of my own identity. In my case, it’s probable that I might need medicine to manage it for a number of years. I’ve now learnt to see past this as being a personal flaw, it’s just who I am. After all, we wouldn’t classify it as a character flaw if someone needs to take mineral pills for anaemia.

What is it that I’m trying to say? In recent years, awareness of the importance of mental wellbeing and the different types of mental difficulties that people can experience is fortunately on the rise. World Mental Health Day has been observed for over twenty-five years now, and even in that relatively short time, more campaigns and charities have come alive, dedicated to campaigning and educating on the issue. There’s still a long way to go – but it’s fair to say that with even basic levels of awareness becoming more prevalent, mental health problems are no longer as much of a taboo.

I now feel comfortable with accepting that my own mental health is a part of my identity, rather than something that I just need to ‘get over.’ It just so happens that my identity means that occasionally, life is more challenging than normal. I’m working to accept this, rather than battle it as something to be overcome.

October 10, 2019 at 6:02 pm | Blog | No comment

The Mental Health Act – Repeal and Replace?

April 5, 2019 at 1:15 pm

The Mental Health Act 1983 (‘MHA’) is the law in England and Wales that covers a range of matters relating to mental health and crisis care. It sets out assessment and treatment in hospital, routes into care, and rights that a patient is entitled to. Whilst the Act has been updated since introduction (most recently in 2007), the core legislation is now over 35 years old. There is a movement calling for its replacement, due to being outdated or other reasons. One of our volunteers, Ellie, has assembled a summary of the arguments on both sides of the coin; for and against wholesale repeal. 

Arguments for the repeal and replacement of the MHA

 

Discrimination

One of the strongest criticisms and reasons for the replacement of the Mental Health Act is the discrimination critics argue it has caused. Disproportionate numbers of black people are detained under the Act. In addition, they generally have more difficult experiences once sectioned. It has further been found that this discrimination impacts young black working class men the most. In 2016/17 rates of detention within the defined category ‘Black or Black British’ was four times of that of those belonging to the White ethnic group. This is furthered when it is identified that the use of Community Treatment Orders (see below) were, for ‘Black or Black British’ people, nearly 9 times that of White people. This has lead to many critics of the Act calling for it to be repealed and replaced with provisions that combat these racial injustices.

Community Treatment Orders

One of the most controversial parts of the Mental Health Act are Community Treatment Orders (CTOs) which were introduced into the Act in 2008. A CTO is when a patient is allowed to be treated within the community rather than in a hospital, but it must follow certain conditions. If these conditions are not followed the patient can be readmitted to hospital. One criticism of Community Treatment Orders is that it does not provide patients a better quality of life or help their mental health condition. It has been argued that being treated within the community leads to a lower quality of life in terms of the patient’s health. This is claimed to be partly due to lower levels of access to resources and support with their health. A further criticism of Community Treatment Orders is that they do not help the patients re-integrate well into the community. It is argued that this is due to the restrictions on the patient’s personal freedoms that come from this form of treatment. Another criticism of Community Treatment Orders is that they act as a punishment rather than treatment and protection for the patient. Some critics of this element of the Act refer to CTOs and ‘psychiatric ASBOs’ and claim that they are used as a replacement for proper care especially for patients with serious conditions such as psychosis. Due to the major problems with CTOs many call for the Mental Health Act to be repealed and replaced in order to solve these major problems by either removing CTOs completely or making major changes to them.

Rising Detention Numbers

One issue that has caused criticism of the Act is the rising detention numbers over the past decade. Between 2005 and 2015 there was a 40% rise in the number of detentions under the Mental Health Act. Whilst there is no one clear reason for detention numbers rising, critics of the Act suggest that this rise in numbers indicates that the Act is failing. In 2007 the Mental Health Act’s grounds for someone to be detained were broadened. It is argued that now people with less serious mental health issues that would not have been previously be detained now are. Critics argue that this has eroded the distinction between serious and less serious mental health conditions. This has lead to calls for a new Mental Health Act that has a narrower requirement of who can be detained in order for less serious mental health issues to not warrant detention.

Patient Decision Making

Once detained patients have very little choice in what happens during their treatment. Some critics of the Act argue that despite the patient not having a choice whether to leave or stay in treatment, they still should have some decision-making power over what treatments they receive whilst they are detained.The Mental Health Act as it is gives very little opportunity for any shared decision making as well as enabling doctors to in some cases administer treatments not approved by the patient. Critics argue that treatment would be more effective if the patient has some say in it. A new Mental Health Act could provide patients with more influence over what happens during their treatment as far as is possible. This is only possible if the current Mental Health Act is repealed and replaced as the current Mental Health Act does not see detained people as having capacity to make significant input into decisions over their treatment.

Arguments against the repeal and replacement of the MHA

 

Patient Protection

One argument against the repeal and replacement of the Act is that its strength in detaining and making some decisions for patients means they are well protected. Some patients in a very serious situation detained under the Mental Health Act are a danger to themselves, and in some cases others. Due to this, supporters argue, the Act’s powers need to be far reaching in order to adequately protect and treat patients who are in the most serious circumstances. Whilst patients are detained, doctors must act in their best interests – the Mental Health Act in its current from gives them the power to do so. Supporters of the Act argue that this comprehensive care in the best interests of the patient would not be possible under a weaker replacement of the Act as it would give doctors less power to make decisions for patients and detain people who are in need of care that may be against their wishes.

Nominated Persons

Under the current Act the patient can nominate a person to support them during their treatment. This nominated person will receive information for the patient, help them exercise their rights and help convey the patient’s preferences and views. Supporters of the Act see this as important as it means the patient can have someone representing their opinions and rights without the burden being directly on them. This allows the patient to better focus on their treatment. Supporters of the Act as it is currently laid out argue that if patients had more of a direct say in their treatment they may not act in their own interest, so it is important to have someone act on their behalf and relay views on their treatment rather than making the decisions directly themselves. This allows doctors still to be able to make decisions considering the patients wishes but not be completely controlled by them. A new Mental Health Act may change this role, and would not necessarily be beneficial to the patient’s treatment.

Recent Reform

Recently the government have committed to reforming elements of the Mental Health Act. This may mean that the whole Act does not need to be repealed and replaced and instead these reforms will address some of the specific problems that critics of the Act identify. One of the key elements of the recommended reform is a greater ability for patients to challenge their detention and challenge their treatment whilst detained as well. This may solve the problems of how much influence patients have in their treatment. It could also be argued that this will go towards reducing detention numbers due to the proposed right to appeal detention more easily. They have also committed to tackling the current racial inequality in detention and believe this can be achieved through changes to how some elements of the Act are carried out in practice rather than through wholesale repeal. This has been promised to be done in part by reducing the numbers of Community Treatment Orders, as these are disproportionally used for black people. In all, some suggest these reforms and changes will solve the problems with the act without the need for it to be repealed.

 

Further information: the Government-commissioned review, ‘Modernising the Mental Health Act – The Independent Review of the Mental Health Act’ concluded in December 2018. The first parliamentary debate considering the Independent Review will take place on Thursday 25 July 2019. Rethink Mental Illness are running a campaign to ensure that the debate is as well attended as possible. Click here for more details. 

April 5, 2019 at 1:15 pm | Blog | No comment

Consultations, Surveys, ‘Have Your Say’ – Why?

March 22, 2019 at 4:51 pm

[This blog post has been written by a member of BIMHN]

Members of BIMHN receive an e-newsletter each month. I have noticed that in recent mailouts, there has been an increase in details of ongoing consultations that are related in some way to mental health; be it to local services or wellbeing in general. These have included surveys seeking views on maternal mental health, feedback on the Young People’s strategy for the local council, and details about experiences of local community mental health rehabilitation services.

I had a think about whether filling in these surveys would make any difference to anything in the long run. What are the data from some tickboxes and ‘comment’ boxes really going to change? What’s the point if they don’t make a difference?

It then hit me that of course – everyone is different. These surveys and consultations are not just about me and my experiences – they are about the combined views and experiences of people in the local area, and how the combination of these perspectives can give a different insight into people’s needs.

Mental health is a broad church – everyone’s experience of mental health is different. Everyone has different backgrounds, symptoms, coping strategies, experiences of different treatments…this list could goes on. Even if someone does not experience mental ill-health themselves, they may know someone who does, or have otherwise come into contact with mental health disorders during their lives.

If a mental health service is being introduced or re-designed, the people and teams leading these projects need to be made aware of the populations different perspectives, views, and experiences. Everyone is different, and there are so many variables that make up an individual’s personal view that their contribution may include an experience or some other information that may not have been previously considered by those running the consultation.

[Editorial note: one of the consultations mentioned above is the BNSSG Rehabilitation Services Review, that BIMHN is currently helping arrange. You can fill out the relevant survey here)]

 

March 22, 2019 at 4:51 pm | Blog | No comment

The Women’s Mental Health Taskforce – Final Report – Outlining the Partners

March 4, 2019 at 12:35 pm

[Late last year, The Women’s Mental Health Taskforce published their final report. One of our volunteers has written a review of the report, considering the parties involved, their commitments, and how this feeds into the aims of the Taskforce.]

This article focuses on the specific roles taken on by key organisations in the UK’s healthcare system to achieve the Taskforce’s goal however, the full report can be accessed here.

It has been brought to light from much research that significantly more women experience mental conditions compared to men. McManus and colleagues (2016) found that specifically young women are almost three times more likely to have a common mental disorder compared to young men. This is because poverty and abuse are related many negative outcomes which includes, but is not limited to, suicide. Compared to men (27%), a staggering number of women who have or are experiencing abuse are also in poverty (51%).

In response to this, the government set up the Women’s Mental Health Taskforce; co-chaired by Jackie Doyle-Price (Minister for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health) and Katharine Sacks-Jones, Chief Executive of Agenda; with the responsibility to improve mental health services for women based on the lived experience of women themselves. That last part is important, as pointed out by Dr Karen Newbigging (Senior Lecturer at the University of Birmingham); “This reflects the social realities of their lives: women are much more likely than men to be survivors of abuse and domestic violence, to be single parents and to live on a lower income. Traditionally mental health services have overlooked this.”

As mentioned by co-chair, Jackie Doyle-Price, “Mental health is a top priority for this Government and will be a key part of the upcoming Long-Term Plan for the NHS”; all eyes are on National Health Service England (NHSE) to make impactful changes that can help women achieve better mental health services. NHSE’s commitments include implementing a financial incentive for trauma related care, developing a toolkit for system leaders with regards to individuals facing health inequalities, and considering to broaden NHSE’s annual conference to focus on the whole care pathway. Furthermore, NHSE aims to provide access to specialist perinatal mental health services for all new and expectant mothers by April 2019.

Another national body involved is the Public Health England (PHE), which is in charge of gathering public health specialists to improve health and wellbeing. They are committed to expanding work on perinatal mental health; guiding the NHS in promoting the Taskforce’s messages; focusing more on gender- and trauma-informed approaches; raising awareness on domestic abuse; and focusing on additional funds towards women’s mental health.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC), independent regulator of all health and social care services in England, has specifically worked towards eliminating mixed-sex accommodation on mental health wards. Through their Long-Term Segregation project and Mental Health Safety Improvement Programme (the latter of which is a collaboration with NHS Improvement), the CQC aims to objectively achieve the goals set by the Taskforce. NHS Improvement is also, among many other things, working towards aligning their sexual safety work with the Taskforce’s objectives.

The role of Higher Education England is crucial as one of their tasks is to disseminate the outcomes of the Taskforce to employers and education institutions, as well as to review the inclusion of trauma-informed care in curricula with Higher Education Institutes.

The Prison and Probation Service is working with the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health and Social Care to establish comprehensive care that improves health outcomes and reduces health inequalities amongst prisoners. Among many other efforts, this partnership is working to enhance ‘women’s pathways’ across all services through actions like appointing women to lead work. Other than that, a new service model is being developed to allow mentally affected offenders to receive mental health treatment as an alternative to custody. Furthermore, the women offender personality disorder pathway aims to improve women’s public protection and mental wellbeing while addressing their offending behaviour. These efforts will hopefully develop psychologically-informed, gender-informed and trauma-informed interventions.

Bristol as a city can also be seen putting efforts into women’s mental health. Bristol City Council is a partner along with thirteen other organisations in a partnership called Healthier Together, that represents the local Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP). Two of Healthier Together’s priorities are maternity and mental health.

It is evident that many organisations are taking steps forward in paving a safer and mental health friendly world for women in the UK. Authorities should take this as motivation to execute their roles as promised as well as introducing more effective efforts instead of becoming complacent by merely acknowledging all their accomplishments so far.

March 4, 2019 at 12:35 pm | Blog | No comment

The Bristol Time to Change hub at UWE – Time to Talk Day 2019!

February 20, 2019 at 1:24 pm

[This blog was written by a BIMHN member, sharing their thoughts on a stall they ran on Time to Talk Day 2019]

I was delighted to be asked to represent the Time to Change Bristol hub at the University of the West of England’s (UWE) Frenchay Campus on Time to Talk Day this year.

Time to Talk Day is the big day in the calendar for Time to Change; a national organisation that leads the way on tackling stigma in mental health. Time to Talk Day takes place annually, and is a day centred around having a conversation with someone. The thinking is that if more people are open about mental health, and issues surrounding it, we can collectively change the way that we all think and act about mental health.

The Time to Change hub were invited to have a stand at UWE’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Fair, which took place in their Students’ Union building. The fair was busy and saw a lot of footfall; not just students, but university staff as well.

Our stand had all sorts of bits and pieces for visitors to take a look at and take away. The Time to Change conversation starter kits were especially popular!

 

Lots of people came by to have a conversation. Some knew about Time to Change already, and some had no idea. Some people had lived experience of mental health, whether it was their own, or someone else’s that they knew. Regardless of a person’s experience, it was heartening to hear from those who had received a positive response when they had opened up to others about their own mental health.

Some visitors to the stall wanted to know more. I was happy to share that we had completed some recent training on how to equip people on how to effectively tackle mental health stigma. I was also happy to share the successes of the Champions Fund, and how we can support anyone looking to put on their own mental health social contact event.

It’s clear there’s still a lot of work to do to make sure that the stigma around mental health, in all its variants, is being tackled in a positive way. It is however positive to hear so many people speaking so openly about their own experience, and that the response they have received is no longer as negative as it might have been in years gone by.

February 20, 2019 at 1:24 pm | Blog | No comment

#GE17 – What are the parties saying about Mental Health?

June 8, 2017 at 6:37 am

[Editorial note: this blog post was published on June 8th 2017, general election polling day. The content listed below may no longer reflect the position of the political parties mentioned]

It’s election day, it is finally here!

We aren’t going to tell you who to vote for or label you as “wrong” for disagreeing with us but we want to make sure you have the facts about what the main parties are pledging for Mental Health services if elected.

Please note, this information has been put together from articles written by the parties for Mind; SNP and UKIP articles were not published at time of writing

The Conservative Party

  • To ensure more people are able to access Mental Health Services, if re-elected, the Conservatives will invest £1.4billion in to the sector by 2020 and recruit thousands more MH professionals.
  • Provide Mental Health training to all new health professionals.
  • Ensure every primary and secondary school has staff trained in supporting young people with mental health and, for those who need further support, reform CAMHS.
  • “Rip up the 1983 Mental Health Act” and bring in the new Mental Health Treatment Bill which has parity of esteem at the heart of it.
  • Improve workplace life for those with mental health conditions.

More information.

The Labour Party

  • Party-wide commitment to improving Mental Health services.
  • £37 billion investment in to the NHS over the next government, this will not only help fund improved Mental Health services but also ensure the”NHS no longer needs to raid mental health budgets to fill black holes elsewhere”.
  • Mental Health budgets (including CAMHS) will be ring-fenced.
  • Focus more resources on early intervention.
  • Ensure all secondary schools have funds available to provide counselling and support to pupils who require additional support for their mental health.
  • £8 billion over the next 5 years will be invested in to social care to help those receiving help at home.
  • End the NHS pay freeze and reintroduce training bursaries for nurses.

More information.

The Green Party

“The Green Party has a three-pronged approach to tackling the mental health crisis in the UK. We must prevent poor mental health from a young age, help those who are already suffering, and invest properly in both prevention and treatment by ensuring parity of esteem with physical health.”

  • Make changes elsewhere in the system to reduce the impact on the populations Mental Health. suggestions being scrapping zero hours contracts and introducing awareness and empathy training in schools to help change the way young people think about themselves and their peers amongst other things.
  • Invest in the NHS to improve Mental Health Services.

More information.

The Liberal Democrats

  • Invest £6 billion in to the NHS each year with £1 billion ring-fenced for Mental Health Services.
  • Implement access and waiting time standards for mental health care in line with other services such as A&E and cancer treatment access.
  • Make Mental Health education a compulsory aspect of the curriculum.
  • Provide more funding for schools to provide onsite professional support.
  • Provide incentives for employers to prioritise employee well-being.

More information.

Plaid Cymru

  • Major investment in Mental Health Services.
  • Continuing to talk about Mental Health to raise awareness and reduce discrimination.
  • Increase the number of Mental Health beds available. Plaid recognise that the use of police cells for those in Mental Health crisis is not acceptable.
  • Fund further research in to treatments so the country can move away from the current “one size fits all” approach.

More information.

June 8, 2017 at 6:37 am | Blog | No comment

Travelling with Mental Health Problems

June 4, 2017 at 9:28 am

We recently stumbled across a blog entitled “Mental Health and Me: What it’s like to travel with a mental illness” and thought it was worth a share.

Travelling often comes up as a barrier to involvement in opportunities amongst our members so, when Airport Parking Shop presented the following figures you can see why the team weren’t surprised.

When asked “Has your mental health ever stopped you travelling?”

74% of respondents said yes.

Responses to the question "If your illness has ever affected your decision to travel, why was that? - Mental Health and Me

And to “Do you think there is enough support in the tourism industry for those travelling with a mental illness?”

You won’t be surprised No was the most given answer.

How easy is it to obtain support when you don't look like you need it?

What have your experiences of travelling with mental health issues been?

If you’d like to write your own post about your experiences, e-mail Amelia: bimhn.engagement@gmail.com

Don’t forget to check out the full blog here for more information, as well as some really helpful tips!

June 4, 2017 at 9:28 am | Blog | No comment

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