Monday 14 May 2012


According to statistics, one in four people in the UK suffer from mental illness. And those are just the people who have reported their symptoms to a doctor. But the NHS is woefully inadequate in dealing with such a prevalent and debilitating illness. I don't know if this is true for other counties, but in Hampshire there are now two tiers of treatment. If you suffer from one of the more 'serious' mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, or are danger to yourself or others, then you get to see an NHS psychiatrist. But if you suffer from 'just' depression, you may be referred to a system called italk. This is a psychological therapy services where the patient will talk with his or her Designated Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner or a High Intensity Therapist over the phone once a week.

Now for some patients, this might be enough but advice cannot be given on medication and talking to a faceless person about your deepest fears and anxieties is hardly a satisfactory situation.

I'm writing about this because I have suffered from depression for over 20 years and antidepressants such as Amitriptyline and Prozac kept me going during this time and enabled me to live a reasonably full life. But nearly 2 years ago my Prozac medication stopped working and I was put on a series of alternative antidepressants but nothing quite hit the mark. So, I asked my GP to refer me to an NHS psychiatrist because I realised that medication in itself was not sufficient.

At first I was told that I had been put on the referral list but nothing happened so at the beginning of this year I asked again and this was when I was told about the new system and that I wasn't eligible to see an NHS psychiatrist. By this time I was pretty desperate so I asked to be referred to a private psychiatrist.

Several weeks later I found myself at the Priory Hospital near Southampton where the psychiatrist I had been referred to took one look at me and suggested that I be admitted into the hospital. I was there for a week and it was a very difficult week indeed. Anybody who thinks that the Priory Hospitals are full of celebrities and places a great luxury should think again. But I received excellent care and I go back there now two mornings a week for cognitive behaviour therapy, which addresses the causes of depression. I'm still on medication but I am now beginning to understand why I am depressed and am now confronting some of the distorted thinking that traps most of us.

The horrible irony is that, to my surprise, this treatment is covered by my private health insurance and so I could have had it much earlier. And, of course, it's not available to those without such insurance.

Do I feel let down by the NHS? Yes. Do I feel sad that this is not available to NHS patients? Most definitely. And this is the result of the economic downturn? Most probably. I've still got a long way to go but I'm hoping, hoping, hoping that I will be able to go to the Essaouira Festival at the end of June. Fingers crossed.

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