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Experts face rise in people seeking help for mental health problems in Havering

PUBLISHED: 17:36 08 January 2016 | UPDATED: 16:17 11 January 2016

The number of people in Havering seeking help for mental health problems is on the rise

The number of people in Havering seeking help for mental health problems is on the rise

PA Wire/Press Association Images

At least one person in every family in Havering will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime.

Women during pregnancy and after birth are among the groups at risk of experiencing a mental health problem Women during pregnancy and after birth are among the groups at risk of experiencing a mental health problem

That is the stark reality of an illness that is often little talked about and little understood despite an estimated 46,000 adults in Havering – or almost one in four people – being affected at some point in their lives.

Our research found the prevalence of long-term mental health problems among all age-groups in Havering is low compared to England nationally.

But the borough faces challenges echoing those across the country.

The Havering Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) report, a blueprint of current and future mental health needs, shows people experiencing a mental health crisis in Havering have a significantly higher risk of ending up in A&E than on average across England, pointing to a potential gap in services.

"People can pop in and say ‘I’m worried about my mum, I’m worried about my daughter, I don’t know what to do’, it takes away the stigma"

Wellington Makala, NELFT NHS Foundation Trust

Under-diagnosis of mental illness is also an issue and spending in Havering is comparatively low compared to elsewhere in London.

The challenges are recognised by Havering Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the authority in charge of healthcare.

“Mental health is a top priority for us because this is something that affects us all, how we think and feel about others and ourselves, how we cope with difficult situations and how we manage our daily lives,” said a CCG spokeswoman.

“We are committed to providing effective mental health recovery services for local people and our dedicated teams work hard to ensure people get the right support, while our GPs are increasingly recognising those patients needing help and, crucially, knowing where they can get it quickly.”

What are mental health problems and who is at risk?

Common mental health disorders include depression and anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias and post traumatic stress disorder.

They can cause emotional distress but do not usually affect a person’s cognition and can be treated with medication or psychological therapies.

Severe mental health disorders, also known as psychoses, produce disturbances in thinking severe enough to distort perceptions of reality. These include schizophrenia and bipolar disorders.

What factors increase the risk?

Poor housing, serious trauma, the death of a parent, hospitalisation, traumatic events in early childhood, side effects of medication.

Which groups are at risk?

Women during pregnancy and after birth, older people, young people and teenagers, people with long-term health conditions, people with learning disabilities, carers, black and ethnic minority groups, offenders and ex-prisoners, people dependant on drugs and alcohol, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

Mental health problems range from common disorders like anxiety and depression to far more severe but less common conditions, such as schizophrenia.

While levels of mental illness are comparatively low in Havering, data shows there were 12,121 referrals in 2014-15 to mental health services run by NELFT NHS Foundation Trust, which provides care in the borough.

And the number accessing services is on the rise. There has been a 17 per cent increase in referrals since 2010-11.

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Darlington Daniel, NELFT Havering associate medical director, said this reflected rising need and more people accessing services.

“With the nature of our economy we’re seeing more common mental health disorders, however we have also improved access to services, so a combination of both will mean that referrals gradually increase over time,” he said.

The age group most likely to be referred to mental health services locally is 18 to 27-year-olds and more women than men access treatment, 7,165 females compared to 4,956 males in 2014-15.

At its most severe mental illness can put lives at risk. Suicide rates, while still third lowest in the country, have risen slightly in Havering over the past decade in contrast to falling rates nationally.

Some of the recognised barriers to seeking help include limited knowledge and awareness of mental health generally, as well as fear of the unknown and stigma associated with mental illness.

But early intervention and treatment can help minimise the impact of mental ill health and improve overall wellbeing.

“Things are generally improving because access to services is improving,” said Dr Daniel. “That will gradually improve knowledge of mental health conditions and therefore reduce stigmatisation. However the stigma is still there and I think it’s an ongoing piece of work, not just in Havering but nationally, that will need to continue.”

* Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis and needing help or advice can call the Mental Health Direct helpline anytime of the day or night on 0300 555 1000. There will be somebody on the other end of the line who can help.

PIONEERING CARE IN THE COMMUNITY

Over the last 30 years there has been a national sea-change to provide mental health services from the community in favour of treating patients in institutions or hospitals, and NELFT has been at the forefront of this change and is nationally recognised for its work.

The overwhelming majority of Havering’s mental health budget, 75 per cent, is spent on providing care in the community and the proportion of inpatients is significantly lower than average.

But high A&E attendance rates for people experiencing a psychiatric crisis could indicate some with mental health problems are inadequately supported in the community particularly in times of crisis, according to the Havering JSNA report.

New services are being piloted in A&E departments locally to help tackle the issue.

“Community care is the main focus of mental health services locally because this is the best way to help people stay well, but it is a fact that nationally people with a mental health crisis tend to call an ambulance and often end up in A&E,” said the Havering CCG spokeswoman.

“For that reason, last year, together with our partners, we launched a 24-7 psychiatric liaison service at Queen’s and King George hospitals to provide urgent help to those people who need it.

“That’s not only helped the patients themselves - 95 per cent of them are seen in one hour - but also the doctors and nurses who work in A&E.”

Work is also underway to encourage people to engage with medical services. A new drop-in session, called the Havering Recovery Community, is held on the second Friday of every month at Fairkytes Arts Centre in Hornchurch.

Wellington Makala, NELFT’s assistant director of adult mental health in Havering, said: “People drop in for advice, guidance, information, and that’s to try and take the stigma off the whole agenda of mental illness, to try and engage people, so they can they can pop in and say ‘I’m worried about my mum, I’m worried about my daughter, I’m worried about this but I don’t know what to do’.”

* The Havering Recovery Community drop-in session is held from 2-4pm on the second Friday of every month at The Billet Building, Studio 1, Fairkyte Arts Centre, 51 Billet Lane, Hornchurch, RM11 1AX. To find out more visit NELFT NHS Foundation Trust’s website

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