Are UK Mental Health Services really ‘mostly failing’ patients?

Okay, so three things to get straight to frame this:

  1. the main characters in my novel, I am Hate, could be said to be being failed by mental health services. I’m not sure they are – other themes in the book are far more powerful, but I’m trying to justify why I’m writing about this announcement on the news this morning.
  2. I worked for more than ten years in mental health as a care assistant. Which means a, I’m unqualified, b, I have a huge passion for caring for, and helping, a range of patient groups. (And I’m sorry, I’ll never call those in need ‘clients’.
  3. I have family and friends who work in a qualified capacity, and have family and friends who have to varying degrees, needed mental health services.

So back to the question in the title of this post. This was on the radio this morning. I have three responses.

The first – similarities to be drawn to teachers and teaching, here – is that  mental health as a public sector organisation comes in for a bit of unfair bashing in terms of its (completely unrealistic) capacity to be a panacea for ‘society’s’ problems. Mental Health is layered and complex, and treatment and recovery is sometimes absolute, sometimes temporary, sometimes partial, and sometimes chronic – long term.

Secondly, I wonder if, sometimes, society, if it’s broken down to consisting of actual real people with minds and motivations and habits of their own, needs to take as much responsibility for itself as it expects others to do for it. Like someone who smokes, who as a result develops lung problems, believing that cancer services are failing him,  we often do a lot of blaming or hoping before we turn the situation round to see what we might do to help.

Thirdly, which follows on from the second, I wonder if the reason some may feel or report that mental health ‘services’ are ‘failing’ is because actually, we are looking in the wrong place, we are asking the wrong organisation to solve the wrong problem. Perhaps it is not mental health services that are ‘failing’ but, rather, ‘society’s’ viewpoint that something as complex as thought does not need as much attention before crisis as it does during or after it.

What do I mean? I mean learning how to think is a long-term skill set every bit as important as learning how to walk, speak, drive a car, etc.

Is there a tendency that many consider the thoughts they have as all that thinking is about, rather than examine and explore how or why they might be thinking a certain way, and leading on from that, considering if there might be more helpful approaches to thinking and situations.

It is certainly true that Mental Health has incorporated a lot of what can also be considered philosophy – ways of thinking about thinking, considering situations from different perspectives, analysing motivations, or just being a much needed sympathetic ear into which a patient can learn to listen to themselves more clearly, and un-muddle their thoughts into patterns that are more effective. Cognitive behavioural therapy, ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) are two that spring to mind. The umbrella term is ‘talking therapy’ but it’s really using talking to infiltrate and rebuild thinking, so might also be termed ‘thinking therapy’.

Is there a debate to be had about the need for this thinking therapy, talking therapy, to be re-branded thinking training, and to be offered as a mainstream part of life, perhaps at school, but certainly promoted throughout the media and by the government?

Excuse the crudeness of the ideas I’m suggesting – they are ideas, and they are coming to me fairly off the top of my head for this blog because the purpose really here is to find out if anyone else is thinking about this, whether in agreement or disagreement.

Please leave comments or subscribe and email with any thoughts. And please retweet to get a debate.  I’m not defending mental health services; but in looking for wellness, it seems wise to be sure we are looking in the right place, or whether we need a new place to cement proper care and wellness among the millions of individuals who make up the society I’m proud to be a part of.



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