It is really encouraging to see the Time to Talk campaign which looks to end the stigma associated with mental ill health. From reading some of the personal stories on the website, and the comments, it’s easy to see that opening up about the challenges is enormously helpful, for both the writer and the readers who have similar experiences.
It takes a certain amount of courage, and probably an awful lot of thought, to write these stories and to open up about the state of your mental health to the people around you. A lot of these entries talk about how people have and still are receiving great support, from family, friends, and work colleagues, as well as health professionals. However, the very fact that the campaign itself is needed is a reminder that, for a lot of people, this isn’t their experience. There could be any number of reasons for this, ranging from finding it difficult to open up, being socially or geographically isolated, bad reactions from others, or being unable to access help and support.
Even if recent government guidelines - 75% of people referred to IAPT should begin treatment within 6 weeks - are met, 6 weeks during a very low period of depression or time of heightened anxiety, can seem like a lifetime. Even worse, it’s not uncommon to hear about 3-month waiting lists for IAPT services, and charities often share the burden of helping people who are either afraid to use government services or do not meet the referral criteria. There is clearly a gap between the level of need and what can be provided via the NHS.
As with many other sectors and services where demand outstrips the ability to supply, part of the pressure can be relieved by using online interventions. In fact, some studies suggest that for certain comorbidities online interventions can actually be more successful than face-to-face therapies. In other areas of day-to-day life, people are increasingly familiar with using services online as the first port of call, and sometimes even expect it. Why not in health? A good example of where this is working is from a health trainer in Kirklees, West Yorkshire, who uses My Health Tools (the Kirklees version of the SelfCareHub) with some of his clients. Some of the benefits that he mentions include:
- after his sessions with the client finish, they can continue using My Health Tools, rather than be left with no form of support
- he can go online, anytime, to see how his client is faring, rather than waiting for less regular face-to-face visits
- it’s a much quicker, more convenient and cheaper way to interact with clients who have difficulties with verbal communication
- all relevant information and resources can be found in one place and it’s accredited
- the information is usually more current than the standard, paper leaflets they normally provide.
Online services for mental health can be cost effective and work well, and they also offer support to those who find it really difficult to talk to anyone about their condition. Men are statistically less likely to seek help than women, yet 78% of all suicides in 2013 were male. Being online and available 24/7, the SelfCareHub is a good option for people who don’t find it easy to talk or can’t access the services they need. It offers a gentle way for a person to share their challenges, as well as their goals, with the people who are best able to support them. Importantly, it can be available anytime, anywhere.
Time to Talk is a fantastic campaign which will encourage more sharing, more support, and more people to seek help. Will there be a correlating demand on mental health services? Possibly, but, in the long run, having a healthier population will be better for everyone. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, but increasing the availability of online mental health services can only be a good thing and will give people more options for managing their mental health.