Alyssa Shepherd discusses the growing mental health crisis in the UK and our NHS's inability to cope with the strain. This is partly down to facilities and funding but it is also to do with the structure of the system and the attitude to mental health in general. Alyssa suggests that we adopt elements of the Finnish system, which incorporates an online system that would streamline appointment-making and provide self-care tips and approaches to psychotherapy.
On 26th April 2018, the Children, Young People and Education Committee of the National Assembly for Wales published a report, which asserted that tackling the emotional and mental health issues faced by young children must become a national priority. The report has emerged against a backdrop of rising concerns regarding the significant increase in the number of children and adolescents contacting charity helplines about suicidal thoughts and feelings. In December 2017, child helpline service, Childline Cymru, reported that it had taken twenty per-cent more calls relating to suicide over that year, whilst MEIC detailed that the number of calls it had received had almost doubled since 2016. According to the aforementioned Committee report, more attention must be paid to preventing young children and adolescents from suffering undue stress, and services for counselling within the National Health Service (NHS) being overloaded.
Whilst over the last two years, several pioneering mental health initiatives have begun to break down the stigma surrounding mental health, and have encouraged more open conversation about the subject matter, the fact remains that the NHS is still unable to cope with the increasing demand for mental health care, most especially amongst children and adolescents. Indeed, according to an investigation conducted by The Guardian, more and more patients are confronted with long delays when accessing treatment, and subsequently receiving inadequate support when they do access care. The NHS’s Mental Health Service is over-stretched, poorly funded, and under-staffed. Whilst private treatment does exist, for those not in a financial position to be able to afford it, this option is simply not a reality. As a result, the impact of the excellent work that various mental health initiatives have done to break down the stigma enveloping mental health over the last few years, is subsequently undermined.
The NHS’s Mental Health Service could, however, learn something from Finland’s approach to mental health services. Concerned by patients being passed around carelessly amongst traditional mental health services, the lack of information available online about mental health, and the increasing demand for psychotherapy in the face of Finland’s vast shortage of funding and trained therapists, Professor Grigori Joffe and his team at the Hospital District of Helsinki and Uusimaa embarked upon developing a new, online mental health service. Finland’s Mental Health Hub contains a questionnaire, used to establish if patients have mental health problems, as well as a service to signpost where patients should go for care. The portal also provides information on mental health, self-help tools, and online cognitive behavioural therapies. Patients can log on to the portal, watch online videos, and do written exercises to highlight their negative and harmful thoughts or behaviours, and learn how to counter them. Patients are also able to contact a mental health professional online, who will reply with advice.
Whilst the online service may not suit everyone, and is not effective for every single mental health issue, the service is much more flexible and cheaper to run than traditional care options. Patients can access the care and treatment from the comfort of their own homes, at times that suit them, and when their issues demand immediate attention, instead of being told to wait four weeks for a face-to-face appointment. The service has also been extremely helpful for patients living in secluded, rural areas, that cannot access regular treatment due to their isolation. Furthermore, mental health professionals are also able to take on more patients, thanks to the online portal.
In order to alleviate the increasingly visible mental health crisis that is sweeping through the UK, the national government, could, therefore, look to Finland’s innovative digital approach for inspiration.