There have been several positive changes in the way mental health care is delivered, particularly over the last seventy-year. One major impact of this change can be seen in the shift in society’s attitudes towards people struggling with mental illness. With greater acceptance for and understanding of mental health problems, those suffering have access to support that they otherwise would not have had. By breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health, more people feel able to ‘come forward’ with their worries, therefore increasing their chance of seeking professional help and treatment which will in turn put them on the ‘road to recovery.’ We can see examples of how less stigmatised mental illness is today by just looking at the increase in cases of mental health problems. I do not agree with the argument that; ‘today’s society has more problems that increase their risk of becoming mentally ill’, for there have always been such problems. Instead, I believe that the removal of stigma and shame surrounding mental health has enabled more people to feel as though they can speak out about their problems, hence why depression and anxiety have seemingly become so much rifer in our society today.
A significant change in approach towards the care of mental health patients has been the transition to community-based treatment. Community based treatment refers to the care and services offered to help mentally ill individuals manage both their mental and physical health in an out of hospital environment. Rather than sending everyone struggling to the traditional, and very much controversial, Victorian asylums, they were instead offered access to the community mental health services. Community mental health incorporated a wide range of services, including nursing/social work support, community mental health teams, day centres, counselling, and supported accommodation. The impact of such a transition? By limiting the use of long stay psychiatric hospitals in the treatment of mental health sufferers, mentally ill people were made to feel less isolated as they were integrated back into wider society. They were therefore made to feel, not excluded from their community as they had done in the past but involved in it. They likely experienced a sense of belonging and ‘togetherness’, feeling content in the knowledge that they finally had some meaning and purpose to their lives. All of this helped to normalise mental health, making it a subject that people were not ‘afraid’ to talk about, something that is critical, since statistics highlight how, in Britain, a massive one in four people are affected by some form of mental illness in their lives. Hopefully with treatment of mental illness in Britain changing for the better, we will start to see a decline in the number of referrals coming through. I am hopeful and, dare I say it, confident, that we will all experience a heightened sense of emotional wellbeing as a result.
‘But what does ‘care in the community’ actually entail?’, you may be wondering. Well, depending on the severity level of an individual’s mental health problem, they may be given anything from access to crisis support (usually used in people suffering with complex mental health issues to prevent hospital admission), to an early intervention team (usually used to treat first time sufferers who may be feeling overwhelmed by the system.) Other examples of roles within a community mental health team include assertive outreach (gives adults intensive support to help them manage their complex needs), approved mental health professionals (either a psychologist, nurse, social worker, or occupational therapist who helps to decide, alongside two other doctors, whether an individual should be detained under the mental health act.) However, regardless of the specific treatment used, the role of any member of the community mental health team is the same- to provide community-based support and help with day to day living. No longer do we have to worry about seeking treatment because the stigma has finally been loosened, allowing people to feel able to seek treatment in the same way they would if they had a physical illness. This is, of course, an extremely positive step, with the benefits of community-based treatment far outweighing any potential ‘disadvantages’ to the approach. The main benefit is the fact that individuals can receive hospital standard care whilst remaining in the community. They can therefore commit themselves to their recovery without having to sacrifice their relationships, friendships, and jobs, which would have had a strong possibility of happening in what now feels like a ‘past life’ of asylums, before community mental health services were built, with such services being developed in general hospitals where self-care is promoted in a way which appeals to the people who long for independence.