On May 9th this year, Matthew Dunham, a 25 year old web designer from Norwich (UK), jumped to his death in a shopping mall close to my home. At the time he was under the care of Norfolk & Waveney Mental Health Trust, UK for depression. The coroner criticised the services for “fundamental deficiencies” and “serious inadequacies” in Matthew’s care, and whilst there was no lack of care received by him, it was “clearly fragmented and un-coordinated.”
For more information see this newspaper report from Norwich Evening News.
The inquest was held on Wednesday last week and despite positive changes being put in place by the health trust, it is seriously worrying that the trust is in the “midst of a cost-cutting exercise to shed 500 jobs and cut 20% of inpatient beds in the next four years”.
My Experience of Care
Since my own care has been under the same mental health trust, the standard of care received by Matthew was all too familiar and the criticism unsurprising. Individual members of staff have been pretty good in my experience, it’s more the system of care which seems fatally flawed.
Waiting times for appointments are far too long. During a serious depressive episode I waited 2 months to see a mental health nurse after referral. Whilst I was lucky to have support at home, if I had been on my own I would have had no support whatsoever.
Communication is horrendous: I went to see a new psychiatrist after 2 years with no psychiatric intervention, only to find he had absolutely no notes or medical record of my previous 8 years of treatment in the system. I told him I had been diagnosed as Bipolar and he didn’t believe me and told me it was PMT!!!! I was so angry! Luckily after 6 months-worth of mood diaries he came to the same conclusion.
Treatment is chronically dis-jointed: I have only seen the same psychiatrist 3 times. Every other time I saw somebody completely different and ended up having to explain everything again: family history, treatments tried, symptoms, no, I don’t smoke weed, no I wasn’t abused, yes I am sure I don’t smoke weed. When you are in soul-crippling depression this is not something you have the energy for and in fact only adds stress to a life crisis.
Another news article described the experiences of a local journalist who had developed serious depression. When he contacted the wellbeing service he was “passed from pillar to post, then told to call again later, I gave up. I simply could not try again”.
To me it feels like the trust is trying hard to cover all the legal bases, without actually caring about the experience of service users.
What do we want of our mental health care?
When I lived in Leeds I received much better care and was admitted to a day centre when I was in the midst of a mixed episode (this also highlights the variation in standard of care across the UK). It really helped me to feel supported and safe. There were support and therapy groups during the day as well as regular appointments with a psychiatrist- the same one, not passed from one to another. Medication was also available on site and each of us had our own keyworker who was available all day if we needed to chat. It really was very good.
For me, Bach Flower Remedies, Reiki, massage, exercise, journalling, aromatherapy, personal and spiritual development (including energy work such as grounding and clearing energies) have all played key roles too, as well as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. A trip to a spa also works wonders if I can afford it! I find being in nature very healing too and cuddling the dog!
To be able to go to a healing centre with all around therapy access would be awesome- with the focus on healing & wellness as a whole-being, not just our mental states. Working on personal development too would be ideal in my world.
It would be great to hear your ideas of ideal treatment & therapy for bipolar, depression, anxiety, etc.
The suicide of Matthew Dunham here in Norwich is just one example of a case where the system has failed an individual. Of course, it is not the only factor involved, but when you’re on the edge of suicide the help and support you get is essential. Positive changes are coming into play at the trust here in Norfolk (though the budget cuts are worrying), but should it really take a suicide for this to come about?