What do we need to do to support people affected by mental health difficulties?
With one in four people in the UK experiencing mental health difficulties each year  we are all now affected by these illnesses—whether you have problems yourself, or someone in your family does, or a friend or perhaps a colleague is struggling. So it’s time to take responsibility for ensuring mental health service users receive the care they deserve to make a full recovery. And this can only happen if we learn from the care currently available and understand where the gaps in the system are letting us down.
To get insights into the mental health care provision in England and Wales, Picker has worked with Mind to launch the annual ‘Big Mental Health Survey’. This major research project enables us to understand people’s experiences of mental health support — provided by primary care services, the voluntary and community sector — and their experiences of discrimination in the community.
What did we find out from 2017’s* results?
Primary care services need to improve the information they provide about treatment: one in six patients said they weren’t given enough information about the purpose of their prescribed medication, and two in five were not getting enough information about the side effects.
Overall, people said they got better care from voluntary organisations than from primary care, although this wasn’t true for young people and those experiencing severe and enduring mental health problems. They had worse experiences of all kinds of care.
The voluntary sector performed better in the following questions: ‘have enough time’, ‘find out about you as an individual’ and ‘help you stay hopeful’. These are similar findings to those of the recent CQC Inpatients Survey, where primary-care staff seemed to lack the time to give the person centred care that the voluntary sector is able to provide.
Unsurprisingly, the survey revealed that the most common types of mental health problems are anxiety and depression. This was also found by the NICE ‘Common mental health disorders’ survey , where 8% of people met the criteria for diagnosis of these illnesses.
What did patients want?
Around a third wanted to access voluntary sector support, but didn’t manage to because they didn’t know how to. Those that did were most likely to have found out about it from a healthcare professional, and they felt it met their needs.
Almost a quarter felt that the care they received did not meet their needs. They said they were looking for a holistic, joined-up approach to care, where they received more time from carers who supported both their physical and emotional needs.
What do we need to take into account?
There were limitations to the survey, and some groups were less well represented than others. This included men and people from black, Asian, and minority ethnic (BAME) groups. To help address this, the latest survey has been translated and made available in Urdu and Punjabi as well as English and Welsh.
What does the future hold?
The NHS Long term plan includes a commitment to an increase in funding for mental health services by £2 billion per year. This will mean that more NHS funding will be spent on mental health than ever before. Some of the commitments in the plan include:
- more funding for services for children and young people
- access to 24/7 crisis support
- improved access to talking therapies
- more mental health support in the community for people with severe mental health problems.
These commitments should help to realise the many areas where parity of esteem has yet to be achieved. They should boost out-of-hospital care and close the divide between primary and community health services. With these changes, we can be hopeful that primary care services will start to provide the person centred care that patients require and deserve.
* The 2017 results are currently the most recently published results.
 McManus, S., Meltzer, H., Brugha, T. S., Bebbington, P. E., & Jenkins, R. (2009). Adult psychiatric morbidity in England, 2007: results of a household survey. The NHS Information Centre for health and social care.
 NICE (2011). Common mental health disorders | Guidance and guidelines | NICE.