Saturday, 3 May 2014

The Buden of Mental Illness and Parity of Esteem


Dr Tom Brown
Associate Registrar at Royal College of Psychiatrists
Mind the Gap Mental Health Conference 
Newcastle University Students Union

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Dr Brown opened his talk with an anecdote of working in liason psychiatry. A twenty year old student presented in A&E after expressing a desire to die, the young man had been struggling with compulsions regarding washing and cleanliness. The man had been referred to psychiatry by his GP and prescribed a low dose antidepressants, he was then told he would have to wait many months for psychological therapy at which point he said he would rather not have it. After turning up at A&E liason psychiatry took him under their wing, upped his antidepressants and gave him cognitive behavioural therapy. Within six months the young man had his life back on track.

"By no means was he cured but he had a reasonable quality of life."

This is where people are missing a trick, thinking that mental health can't be cured and this is a problem. If mental health and physical health were seen on par with one-another this wouldn't be a problem. Take diabetes for instance, the condition is treated but by no means cured and that is okay. Similarly conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder are treated but by no means cured yet it seems to have some sort of stigma attached. 

The World Health Organisation Global Burden of Disease study 2010 featured seven mental health disorders within the top twenty causes of disability from disease, injury or other risk factors. Yet despite this and the fact that 23% of morbidity in the NHS is caused by mental ill health, mental health services within the NHS only receive 13% of the resources.

Dr Brown thinks that the only way to gain head-way with mental health is to achieve a parity of both professional and public respect. Massive barriers to achieving this are mostly due to the stigma attached to mental health which causes both social isolation of those suffering mental health conditions and the professional isolation of those working within mental health. If attitudes towards mental health change will that in turn change the treatment? When people learn that mental health conditions can be just as treatable as physical health problems and working within mental health is just as a rewarding job.

“Psychiatry is all biological and all social. There is no mental function without brain and social context. To ask how much of mind is biological and how much social is as meaningless as to ask how much of the area of a rectangle is due to its width and how much to its height”
- Leon Eisenberg


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