Thursday 1 March 2012

"Denbigh Mental"

Tŷ Llidiard, the new children's mental health unit which opened this week in Bridgend

Important news here about mental health services for children as the Welsh Government publishes its first annual report on "Breaking the Barriers - Meeting the Challenges" which is the year-old Action Plan resulting from "Everybody's Business" which set out the Government's strategy for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services in Wales. Lots of paper then but is it making a difference?

You can't quarrel with the investment in the new facility in Bridgend (picture above) of which the Minister of Health Lesley Griffiths AM said "I'm absolutely blown away; the attention to detail that's gone into this building is unbelievable.

"When children and young people experience mental health problems it is important the right services are there ready to provide support to them and their families. Here at Tŷ Llidiard young patients will receive treatment in a comfortable, friendly and safe environment which is wholly appropriate to their needs while they are at their most vulnerable."

The Minister also gave an interesting insight into her own observation of changes in mental health services over the years: "I started my working life about thirty years ago in the North Wales Hospital, Denbigh, a massive Victorian institution. To see changes like this that have taken place in mental health services in that time is amazing. This is fantastic facility for children and staff."

The former North Wales Hospital (aka "Denbigh Mental")

Well, by any standards the old hospital is a better piece of architecture but let's not grudge the Minister the right to contrast the buildings. More seriously the story has not of course been unambiguously one of continuing improvement as across Wales many patients with the highest needs have been ill-served since hospitals have been run down and closed because there was neither the resources nor the imagination deployed to support them effectively in the community. But let's try to look forward.

On the annual report Hafal's John Gilheany comments "While progress has been made the report recognises areas of concern such as the fact that while more than 50% of children with severe learning disabilities have significant mental health problems only a small percentage receive services; and also the 'dramatic' reduction of Social Worker posts in specialist CAMHS. The report also acknowledges the problems to be faced in delivering services in the current economic climate."

To get a real, human understanding of what life can be like for young people experiencing mental illness in Wales today take a look at Sarah Stanyon's courageous and telling account of her experience in the latest edition of Mental Health Wales.

Sarah describes poignantly how at one stage "I basically hid from the world for the next three years. I was unable to find employment because of a lack of confidence and I felt lonely because I had alienated myself from most of my friends. In 2009 I moved to a residential program in Sheffield but returned to Swansea a year later in a worse state than when I left: I was hearing voices, severely anxious and suicidal. The help I received from the NHS was minimal and I had to wait six months to see a psychiatrist."

See Sarah's whole story, including some better experiences of mental health services, here. In spite of the inconsistent support which she received Sarah does advise people to seek help: "If I could say one thing about mental illness it would be this: if you think you have a mental illness do not be afraid to speak out and find help. There is a lot of support out there for you and people are, for the most part, understanding and want to help you."