(This continues and concludes my previous blog post reviewing the 2014 Mersey Care conference.)
The next session, Think Family, outlined the work being done on Merseyside to support young carers. This was partly presented by a group of very articulate young carers.
It was stressed that having a parent with mental disorder has effects on the whole family; everyone in that family is impacted. It is important to change cultures and attitudes to mental health and the needs of families. This involves a journey of recovery involving the whole family.
It was pointed out that a third of UK adults with mental health problems are parents. While most are able to discharge their parental roles effectively, children with parents with mental health problems can nevertheless experience poor outcomes in later life.
The young carers described the impact that having a parent with mental health problems has on them. This covers the necessity to be involved in domestic chores, as well as physical and emotional care giving. Educational needs of young carers can often come second, and result in them missing school, etc, and the leisure and social life of young carers can also suffer.
There therefore needs to be a major cultural change: this needs to involve increased visibility and social inclusion, improved access to support and services, improved means of identification of needs, and a more confident and supported workforce.
One of the major achievements is the creation of family rooms in inpatient facilities. The Trust has resourced 16 of these rooms, which are designed to provide a pleasant and safe environment for children to see their parents.
There needs to be an increasing focus on children within the CMHT’s, and the development of a common perspective in order to provide safer services that include the needs of young carers.
The next session was about Youth Mental Health.
It was stated that current services tend to be designed around professionals rather than need. There is poor access to services for children and young people, even though they experience high levels of depression and social anxiety.
There is a huge difference between child and adolescent mental health services and adult mental health. These include problems with service models, with CAMHS focussing on developmental issues, while adult services focus on the diagnostic, and CAMHS stressing psychological intervention, while adult services have a more pharmacological approach.
It is very important to manage the transition between children’s and adult services, as there is frequently a gap in provision. There are also problems with engagement and disengagement. The evidence shows a high referral rate for 16-25 year olds, but poor subsequent engagement. There is also higher comorbidity, for example young people’s problems being exacerbated by homeless, substance issues, etc.
And that ended the morning session.
Dr Carol Henshaw and Pauline Slade, from the Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust kicked off the afternoon with a sobering examination of issues in perinatal mental health.
Pauline Slade stated that it is vitally important to address mental health problems that emerge during pregnancy and up to the end of the first year postnatal. This is not just of benefit to the women, but is equally important for their child, their partner and society as a whole. The estimated cost to the country of perinatal mental health difficulties is £8.1 billion per annum, whereas the cost of provision of good services would only amount to £500 million per annum.
The main problems that women encounter are depression and anxiety both during and after pregnancy, post traumatic stress disorder arising from birth trauma, and more rarely, but potentially very dangerous, postnatal psychosis. The focus should be on prevention of serious consequences to mental health if at all possible.
One third of women experience childbirth as being traumatic, and 3-6% of these women will go on to develop symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, and yet currently the systems are not in place to screen and treat PTSD. Clinical studies of effectiveness of potential interventions are still only planned or small pilot studies.
Pauline suggested that it was important to train midwives to assess and treat early signs of PTSD through brief interventions.
Other important strategies included improving access to support through peer assessment and support, and “if/then” planning, which is a simple way to help people to put intentions into practice.
A Self-help tool has been developed for prevention of PTSD, which includes the provision of basic information and simple exercises.
Carol Henshaw outlined the specific problems women with pre-existing serious mental illness experience. These include an increased risk of other health and social issues, a higher risk of problems with pregnancy and the development of the foetus, stigma and discrimination, disproportionate involvement with children’s services, and dual diagnosis, eg. Drug or alcohol problems.
There is also a high risk of relapse and suicide following the birth of the child.
Strategies to address these problems include preconceptual counselling, identifying women at particular risk, and provision of adequate mother and baby units if these are needed postnatally.
She also observed that misattribution of the cause of symptoms can lead to death in the worst case, and that early symptoms can be non-specific, but can then deteriorate very rapidly into serious and life threatening mental health problems.
Professor Rob Poole, Professor of Social Psychiatry at Bangor University, was next up. He examined the impact of poverty and social exclusion on the incidence and subsequent recovery from mental disorder.
He had some alarming things to say about how the consequences of current national policies create structural inequalities, which in turn leads to worse outcomes and greater incidence of mental illness. Unfortunately, depriving the poorest of the basic means to exist and thrive has the foreseeable consequence of ultimately leading to great expense for society as a whole.
There are significant links between serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, and poverty and isolation. This is known as the urban effect, where merely living in a city can increase the likelihood of developing mental illness. There is a high correlation, especially for schizophrenia, with local and national inequalities. Even the fact of growing up as a black British person in the UK can have a serious impact on developing mjor mental illness, as a result of structural racism and disadvantage.
The last speaker, the eminent Professor Peter Beresford, built on this theme. Examining stigma as a barrier to recovery, he gave an eloquent and stirring address dissecting the appalling consequences of government policy on the mental health of the nation.
There is a national crisis in mental health, arising from the government challenging people’s right to a good standard of life. The government speaks of “parity of mental health services”, while at the same time not only cutting back on NHS funding for mental health, but at the same time making mental health service users a particular target of government and media hate campaigns.
It was time to fight back against stigma. Peter particularly condemned such iniquitous NHS constructions such as “clustering”. An understanding and practice of a social approach was much more helpful thatn trying to fit people into specific diagnostic criteria.Peter suggested that psychiatry as a system supports the government’s neoliberal policy to accept inequality. It was important to challenge this. There is also a serious risk that the policy of applying the “recovery” model to intervention in mental health can be interpreted merely as a way to limit access, duration and quality of mental health services to individuals. Recovery should focus on maximising an individual’s potential, even if there is uncertainty as to how much input would be needed, or how long it would take, for recovery to be effected.
These conferences are crammed. As well as the above speakers, Q&A panel sessions were interspersed throughout the day. This provided an opportunity for conference delegates to ask questions of such luminaries as Professor Rich Moth, Steve Chamberlain, Chair of the AMHP Community of Interest at the College of Social Work, and even The Masked AMHP himself.
My own perception of this conference was that it was not afraid to tackle difficult and awkward issues, such as the severe deficiencies in government policy that leads to chronic bed shortages across the country, holes in service provision, and the effects of policies that unfairly target and exacerbate the problems of mental health service users.
However, at the same time, it offered encouragement to professionals and others to continue to struggle to provide the best services possible, regardless of government imposed strictures.
Emad Lilo organised this and previous conferences. He has the gift, not only of being able to persuade eminent speakers to give up their time to attend, but also of steering a course through the day that culminates in a feeling of hope rather than despondency.
I’m looking forward to attending next year’s conference.