Easing the burden on Mental Health Services - by Charlotte John (BSoM registered meditation teacher)
It’s easy to blame Covid for the increase in mental health problems, but it is a host of other factors that were already impacting healthcare systems, communities, families and individuals long before the pandemic struck. Ageing and growing populations, increased long term disease burden and economic inequality, and now with the current cost of living crisis and societal wellbeing issues, all have been attributing factors to the pressure on NHS mental health services.
Around 30 per cent of all people with a long-term physical health condition also have a mental health problem, most commonly depression/anxiety which can affect not only quality of life for those living with illness but also places significant financial burden on the NHS. The effect of poor mental health on physical illnesses is estimated to cost the NHS at least £8 billion a year.
Mental health services across the country are inadequate, underfunded and inaccessible, leaving people with long referral and treatment times, not getting the right help at the right time. There is a significant gap in the demand for services and the capacity the NHS has, to deliver them.
So, what is the NHS doing? Well, the NHS Long Term Plan set out a vision to improve the health and care services available for patients. To plan and deliver a joined-up approach to this vision, 42 Integrated Care Systems (ICS) were formed across the UK and the key building blocks to a community based approach across the NHS are the Primary Care Networks (PCNs).
From a mental health perspective, the aim to deliver world-class care for major health problems and supporting people to age well is:
• helping 380,000 more people get therapy for depression and anxiety
• delivering community-based physical and mental care for 370,000 people with severe mental illness a year
• increasing funding for primary and community care by at least £4.5bn bringing together different professionals to coordinate care better
One way of delivering the plan is through Social Prescribing lead by the PCNs. It is a healthcare approach that involves healthcare professionals referring patients to non-medical services and activities in the community to improve their overall well-being and address social determinants of health. These services aim to treat a person holistically, recognising that health is influenced by a wide range of factors beyond just medical conditions.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) are now recommending Mindfulness-based therapies to treat less severe depression. Nationally, regionally and locally, NHS services are starting to use Meditation as part of social prescribing and personalised care initiatives. Though there is generic online support available, PCNs are now using new technology as a sign posting tool to promoting holistic wellbeing services that both prevent and treat mental illness. Meditation is a service that can support both people and the NHS.