Is the NHS missing the point over mental health issues?


About | Heads TogetherDuring the Covid crisis, much high-profile attention has rightly  been paid to mental health, with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge highlighting that we need to pay more attention to this problem.

But sometimes, as I found out during cancer treatment, it isn’t our mental health that is in need of attention, but an old-fashioned listening ear.  But instead of helping me with problems, I was offered Counselling sessions, obviously aimed at my mental health.  Doctors repeatedly asked me “would you like Counselling?” until I accepted.

But, we don’t always need highly-qualified professionals investigating our mental health.  Sometimes, what we need is a chance to talk things through with a nurse or doctor who is prepared to listen to our concerns, and help over issues that worry us.  In my case it was, and still is, side effects of drugs on my body. Nothing to do with my mental health, yet I was being ‘pigeon-holed’ and shoved into a useless box, just to tick a box that ‘my concerns had been addressed’.

Before the NHS wastes more time of highy-valued mental health professionals, perhaps it could think what is actually needed.  Many patients need someone to talk things over, and help them find the right treatment, often for minor problems, but these can develop into major concerns.

During treatment I really, really needed to halt the non-stop conveyor-belt I was on, and discus with someone whom I could feel would  advocate for me; who could help with handling the complexities of the NHS and would give me breathing space. During treatment the medics may know what is happening, but we don’t.  Common-sense help with negotiating and understanding the treatment minefield was what I wanted. My problems weren’t concerning my mental health,but jn typical NHS-fashion the system couldn’t cope with my individual concerns.

Our mental health today

Now lockdown has meant many experiencing serious issues with isolation.  The simple fact of having no-one to talk to can cause endless mental problems.  But this isn’t a mental health problem, rather an old-fashioned need for a shoulder to cry on, and someone to listen so no-one is left in the middle of a mine-field of treatment, wanting answers.  .

After isolation for many, mental health problems are rife, but perhaps instead of counselling sessions with staff from the expensively-trained psychological therapies services, the NHS could make use of the thousands of volunteers who signed up to help the NHS, and give them a job so they feel useful.

Help at a basic level

Outpatients must be one of the most soul-destroying areas of any hospital.  Wherever one sits waiting, and waiting, there is the usual vending machine stuffed with over-priced and unhealthy Carillon snacks, a water-cooler (usually missing cups) and a Reception Desk designed to keep the public at bay.  Patients sit staring vacantly in to space – either for their appointment, or waiting for hospital transport home.

It doesn’t need the proverbial sledgehammer to crack this nut.  All it needs is a cheerful volunteer armed with a clipboard to ask us sensible questions designed to target our Sledgehammer to crack a nutconcerns.   These volunteers wouldn’t need any medical knowledge, just a helpful attitude and a promise to pass on the questionnaire to our ‘team’.  Then, when the MDT have their meetings well away from us, these questionnaires might throw up exactly what was bothering us, and what we were trying to get over,  but didn’t have the time during our appointment, or were too shy, intimidated etc. to discuss fully.

Yes, doctors are overworked, but surely this idea might short-cut the problems patients face when not receiving the right care at the time – often having to wait until a minor problem has escalated before anything is done.

My negative experience

I blush when I recall the eager young psychiatrist keen to help me.  Being told to lie back in a reclining chair was not very reassuring, although I am sure it was meant to relax me.  Questions were asked, but I kept on repeating that my dream was for a seamless treatment path, it became obvious we had different agendas. I tried to be polite, and listen with an open mind, but counselling wasn’t going to help me get what I needed.

Questions about “how do you feel?”, frankly, made me fume.  I needed treatment, so let’s get on with it. I got the giggles, upended my recliner and landed on the floor, and that was the end of my Counselling session. I could see benefits for some, but this wasn’t for me.


However, certain cancer patients can benefit from Counselling, but this is not a one-size-fits-all answer for everyone, and doctors need to assess if this therapy is right for YOU.  Paul’s Cancer Support Centre in Battersea says the benefits of counselling include:

  • alleviating feelings of loneliness
  • increasing the ability to communicate, improving relationships
  • promoting the deeper understanding of emotions
  • increasing a sense of control
  • providing a fresh perspective and tapping into creativity
  • reducing tension and stress
  • putting people in touch with their resources of imagination and intuition
  • helping people to find meaning in what is happening to them

But this is not a substitute for medical care for handling physical side effects, such as heart problems, neuropathy, skin problems, osteoporosis, lymphoedema, etc

So let’s leave the professional mental health care for those whose need is greatest, and apply common-sense to handling our concerns,; we may only need help with finding whom to approach, or which hospital section might be better able to help us when treatment isn’t going to OUR plan..