Mental Health: Your concerns answered

In October 2007, BBC Radio Norfolk’s breakfast show explored the issue of mental health in a series called Head First. Maggie Wheeler, chair of the Norfolk And Waveney Mental Health Trust answers your questions.
Q: How long have you worked in mental health?
A: I’ve been chair of the trust for about four and a half years but I’ve spent the last 30 years or so working as a social worker and social care manager.
Q: According to national figures, Norfolk has a high rate of prescribing anti-depressants. Why is this?
A: Nobody is quite sure why. One possibility is that there are more people with mental health problems in Norfolk, though there’s no particluar reason why there should be. There is another argument that people are getting good access to their GP and that the GPs are responding to that. Anti-depressants are not the only answer. But it’s not an ‘either or’ with medication and other kinds of therapy, I think sometimes you need both. There’s not a ‘one size fits all’.
Q: Some people have said that their doctors were not well prepared for people with mental health problems. What should people do if they are not happy with the service they recieve from their GP?
A: One of the things they can do when they see their dcotor is ask if they can see a link worker. Link workers are people who are trained in mental health, with a nursing or social care background who can work with the individual and also help the GPs to know what more is available out there.
Q: Do you think there’s enough care in the community? Some people have suggested that there should be more help outside the hospital environment.
A: I think the whole future is about caring for people in their communities. I think the phrase ‘care in the community’ has become devalued over the years. What we know is that most people want to carry on living their lives in their own home, carry on working if they can, carry on being a student, a mother, a father…whatever it is that you and I would characterise as being our unique lives. It’s about finding a way to carry on with that while you’re recovering from mental illness, or while living with mental ill-health.
Q: What would you say to someone who’s worried about becoming dependent on anti-depressants?
A: If people are concerned about that, it’s really important they go back to see their doctor. I think most GPs, when they’re prescribing anti-depressants, are asking people to come back regularly to be reviewed. Certainly anti-depressants isn’t something you should suddenly stop taking.
Q: There seems to be a lot of help available for people who live in Norwich – what about those in rural areas? How can you reassure people about the way care in the community is going to develop here in Norfolk over the next few years?
A: One of the reasons it’s important to enable people to have care in their own homes is that the further you live away from a centre the harder it can be to access services. So the more we can do to avoid people having to come to Norwich, or wherever it might be, the more money we can invest in the teams that will go out and treat people in their own homes. We have the same challenge that every agency in Norfolk has, of providing equal services across a huge geographical area. I think our services are good right across the county, but they will feel different in different places.
Q: What’s the future for mental health services in Norfolk?
A: One of the things we’ve done quite considerably is changed the way people are treated. People now spend much less time in hospital, which means that we need fewer hospital beds, so we can invest the money back in the community teams. I can’t quote you an exact figure off the top of my head, but we’re having to have a long hard look at the very best way to spend the money we have.

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