Around a year ago, I was referred by my GP for therapy due to depression and anxiety. It took seven months for me to get a consultant appointment – where I was told that I would receive cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) within a month. It was another five months before I finally received this appointment for CBT. When I attended the appointment, a year after I first sought help, I was informed that I could not receive any therapy as I had moved address and was no longer within their catchment area. I was then asked to leave and told to place myself on another, up to two year long, waiting list. This is simply not acceptable.
Mental illness is one of the most pressing issues facing young people in today’s society and the NHS is failing us. In order to appreciate the full extent of the problem, I asked various young people across Scotland about their experiences with NHS mental health services.
Christie, 17 and from Glasgow, has a worrying story to tell. “For the past four years, I have been anorexic and depressed,” she says. “At new year, I was hospitalised after an attempted suicide… Unconscious, but still aware of what people were saying around me, I heard two nurses saying that hospital beds shouldn’t be taken up by “patients like that”.”I cannot believe that NHS staff would mock a patient… The staff don’t treat you the same as someone who has had a stroke or broken your arm, they kind of look down on you – like you’re wasting their time.”
Christie continues: “The NHS offers a counselling scheme called CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). They do an assessment and you get a copy a few months later. On this paper, the doctor got everything I had told him wrong. He wrote the wrong names and ages of my family members and other information that wasn’t what I had said. It just makes you feel like no one cares.”
Although there are schemes, they aren’t helpful and attending a session a few times a month hasn’t stopped the way I feel… It is not a long-term solution. I feel the staff aren’t efficient enough in what they do.”
I spoke to a number of other young women from across Scotland about their experiences with NHS mental health services.
Lyndsey, 20, Edinburgh: “I had a six-month wait when I was 15, a year wait at 18, and now a possible two-year wait at 20… When I first went to therapy at 15, I was there for a year until I was discharged. Then when I got older they sent me to group therapy because there weren’t enough one-to-one spaces. Now I’m back on a waiting list for one-to-one therapy.”
Amy, 21, Edinburgh: “My GP lost the record of my prescription for anti-depressants and the mental health clinic I attend cancelled my appointment to have work done on the building.”
Sophie, 21, Glasgow: “A lovely doctor phoned me back and had a lengthy consultation with me. She then explained that NHS waiting lists for therapy are extremely lengthy and that it could be over three-months before I would even be considered for an appointment. She said that the waiting lists for therapy are only getting longer due to so many NHS cuts.”
The whole thing was basically a massive waste of time and I have since sourced a private therapist – which is not cheap – because I simply could not wait the amount of time the NHS were expecting me to.”I’ll never forget how sorry the doctor sounded on the phone that she couldn’t do more for me – it really stuck with me. The NHS is in tatters”
Lucy, 22, Dundee: “I was referred and placed in a matter of weeks, and my admission date was then brought forward after two emergency admissions to hospital (my parents couldn’t wake me up and had to call an ambulance). I was admitted really fast, but some folk are left for months waiting for beds (because there are only two non-private NHS inpatient facilities for eating disorder treatment in Scotland).”
I have been doing CBT, family based treatment and work with the dietician – as well as art therapy. I’m finding it really good – it’s night and day from the private hospital I was in two years ago. The work is more personal, more gradual and just generally better – the staff are so dedicated and genuinely care about us. It’s saved my life. Took a while for me to get here but I only have good things to say about it.”
Rachel, 22, Edinburgh: “The psychologist I saw wanted me to follow a standardised procedure and it wasn’t working for me. He wasn’t open to try any new or creative methods to help me.”I think everyone responds differently and there should be a variety of approaches to suit everyone… I asked to see someone else and he insisted that “everyone else will just ask you to do the same thing”.”I was put back on the waiting list for nine months until I was offered another appointment. By then I had already found other helpful techniques for dealing with my disorders such as meditation and mindfulness – so I didn’t ever go back.”
Rebecca, 20, Edinburgh: “I’ve been waiting for a diagnosis for six years and have constantly been passed around from pillar to post. It has been no help. I have been shoved on loads of different meds and waited over a year for help from NHS. I didn’t find it beneficial at the time and it never lasts long.”
Experiences may vary, but one thing which is a clear issue is long waiting times. The provisions needed to help people are there – one particularly positive example is the inpatient facility for eating disorder treatment, the Eden Unit in Aberdeen. However, there are only two of these non-private NHS facilities that exist in Scotland. This is leaving thousands of people without the help they require.
Whether it be specialised facilities or therapy sessions, there are simply not enough spaces to treat everyone. It is relatively normal for a person suffering from mental health problems to have to wait a year for therapy, even if that person is suicidal. This is neither safe nor effective.
The only solution to saving the NHS is voting for a political party that intends on increasing NHS funds. When you vote on the 8th of June, think of those around you who are suffering from mental illness, and vote for a party who has their best interests at heart.