Accessibility to mental health services is an important topic right now.
I have thought, spoken, and written about accessibility to mental health services throughout my career. This takes on a particular meaning during this Covid-19 crisis, especially as accessibility isn’t just about being able to afford or access a funded service.
It’s also about it being harder than ever to find the right person to support you as the person you are (however you identify), the things that matter to you, and your specific concerns about how you’re feeling. And at a time when your mental health needs are perhaps more urgent than ever, or you’re experiencing difficulties for the first time.
EXPERIENCES WORKING IN THE MENTAL HEALTH SYSTEM
As a trainee Psychotherapist I delivered over 500 hours of face-to-face psychotherapy in six different services. This included creating, and co-ordinating a specialist service for female offenders within an already-existing charity that provided keyworking and probation support.
All 500 hours were done on a volunteer basis. Nearly all of the people I supported were accessing those services for free, or at a lower cost than is usual for private psychotherapy (£2-£30 per appointment). Funding is part of enabling accessibility, and is hugely inconsistent.
The degree to which people need free/lower-cost services, and the high number of Psychotherapists and Counsellors working as volunteers, is evidence that therapeutic contact is possible despite the barrier of inconsistent funding.
However, this edges too closely to dismissing the enormous need for mental health support for absolutely everyone. Not having funding in place for services means people wait months, or sometimes over a year, to get what they need. This is not accessibility.
WHAT PSYCHOTHERAPIST AND COUNSELLORS DO
Dismissal of this also dismisses the value of what Psychotherapists, and Counsellors do. We hear, and respond to, things that are often left unsaid because we provide a supportive environment where people can speak freely without judgement. We are facilitators of a place to practice being in the wider world in a different way. We actively challenge factors such as stigma, blame, shame, and guilt to enable connection rather than isolation. All of this creates individual, and societal change in incremental steps.
Being implicitly and explicitly asked to work for free for years does not value what we do, nor does it value the person we’re sat across from when we work. That person deserves funded services that don’t have time restrictions. That person deserves to have a service that won’t suddenly disappear when funding stops.
At a time when everyone’s mental health is impacted, access to support needs to be evaluated more than ever. We cannot conceivably nor practically go back to normal after the impact of Covid-19 on our global community. The trauma of what we’re experiencing needs to somehow be integrated into how we survive it. We need a new way of being together, and supporting each other.
INCREASING ACCESS TO MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT
The ways I’m doing this during lockdown is to offer my current clients appointments online or by phone. I have created a free video on managing stress from a trauma-informed perspective, which will be available in the next few days. This is for anyone struggling with anxiety, stress, depression, PTSD, and CPTSD.
I’m also working on creating a phone/online service for LGBT+ people during the lockdown, which anyone in the UK can access. More on these to follow soon. I hope you can stay safe in the meantime wherever possible.