Man waits eight years for mental health therapy as services hit by demand

Myles Cook, suffers from severe depression which is worsened by his ‘horrific’ living situation

Rebecca Thomas
Health Correspondent
Tuesday 17 January 2023 11:45 GMT
YougGov poll finds patients in poverty seven times more likely to have negative mental health experience
YougGov poll finds patients in poverty seven times more likely to have negative mental health experience

A man waiting for eight years to get adequate mental health care, as waiting lists for therapy grow.

Myles Cook, 47, from Essex, lives with severe depression and has been fighting to get one-to-one counselling for eight years but he has been told there are not enough therapists locally to respond to the demand.

Instead, he has been referred to group sessions, which he said were “detrimental” to his condition and manages his condition with medication but said he did not find that helpful either.

He said: “If you’re not getting help, and all you keep getting are pills and pills that don’t seem to be doing much. It might take the edge off but it doesn’t really do anything for my depression and because of the way the benefits system works, I’m not getting any therapy If I’m not on tablets, they’ll probably kick me off on my benefits because I’m not being treated.”

“I take the tablets, the psychiatric medications, I keep taking them although they’re not helpful because I need to have something to prove that I’m being treated to keep my benefits.”

Now, his condition has been exacerbated further by concerns about the escalating cost of living crisis, which means his benefits no longer cover his daily living costs.

He struggles to meet the cost of heating his home and said he was in a “horrific” situation of not being able to afford more than one meal a day.

“My mental health has taken a real dive … during the winter, it’s horrific. I can’t get any more depressed. I still go to bed every night thinking I hope I die during the night, my first thought every morning is ‘damn I’m not dead’.”

And he’s not alone in his stuggle to get help. A new survey of 4,139 adults carried out by YouGov and mental health charity Mind revealed that just 54 per cent of people in “deep poverty” – those who say they cannot afford to eat, keep clean or stay warm – found that NHS mental health services were helpful. That compared to more than two-thirds of people not in poverty.

At least half of those in “deep poverty” said they lacked access to treatment options compared to 30 per cent of those not struggling financially. The most deprived patients also found that mental health support via apps and online less helpful, compared to wealthier patients.

When asked how debt and poverty impacted their mental health, 74 per cent of respondents said it had a negative impact compared to just 14 per cent of those not living in hardship.

At least 95 per cent of patients needing NHS talking therapy services, called IAPT, should receive treatment within 18 weeks. But figures previously uncovered by The Independent showed that just one in five patients have their second IAPT appointment within three months.

And the NHS has failed to meet its target of having 1.6 million patients seen by IAPT services last year. Data published last year shows this was missed by 400,0000 at the end of 2021-22.

‘I can’t get any more depressed’

Commenting on the YouGov poll findings, Sophie Corlett, Interim CEO at Mind, said: “These incredibly worrying findings show just how difficult it is for the very worst off in society to get the mental health support they need.

“Poverty can have a huge impact on people’s mental health - but our society is poorly equipped to support the mental health problems of people struggling to afford the very basics.

“This is the consequence of a lack of effective planning from the UK government for the mental health impacts of a cost-of-living crisis, as well as decades of drastic underfunding of mental health services … People in deep poverty are facing dire situations every day right now. Our mental health services need to be there for them in their time of need.”

Mind is pushing for the government to publish a long-delated cross-government mental health plan and the necessary funding to match.

An NHS spokesperson said: “NHS mental health services are continuing to expand and treat record numbers of people thanks to the dedicated additional funding provided through the NHS Long Term Plan in 2019, but it is clear that the pandemic has compounded many of the issues that contribute to poorer physical and mental health including poverty and deprivation.

“So, while the NHS will always be there for those who need it and is committed to playing a leading role in preventing ill-health, helping more people to live healthy lives will require ongoing concerted action from a much wider group of partners so that people’s housing, social and economic needs can be met.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “No one should have to wait longer than necessary for mental health services – that’s why we’re investing an extra £2.3 billion per year by 2024, which will deliver an additional 27,000 mental health professionals and give two million more people the help they need.

“Our public call for evidence on what can be done across government in the longer term to support mental health received over 5,000 responses. We are currently analysing these and will update shortly.”

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