By Aubrey Boggs, CMWN Intern
This week Professor Paul Burstow spoke to different groups in Colorado about addressing the gaps in mental health treatment and shared ways in which the UK has sought to enhance their own healthcare system to support individuals with mental health conditions. Paul Burstow was a member of parliament in the UK for 18 years, Minister of State in the Department of Health, and is currently both the chair of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and a professor of health and social care at City University, London. Burstow has been traveling to different places to discuss what can be done to address the gaps in health care around mental health.
Burstow shared how the UK has been seeking more integrated, person-centered, and intervention-based mental health care in order to serve the citizens of the UK better. One of the most poignant statements he made called out our medical response to mental health as the “Baywatch” approach. Our current mental health system is built around crisis care, and operates a lot like an episode of Baywatch, the system is constantly trying to save people from drowning without ever teaching individuals how to swim. He also emphasized that doing more of the same (i.e. continuing to offer mostly crisis-oriented mental health treatment) will not be a sustainable option. While crisis care is incredibly important, providing accessible and preventative treatment may keep many individuals from needing crisis services and support a more holistic view of health, one that addresses the different parts of a person and how they work together to create a whole person.
One of the ways the UK has been moving forward is by addressing stigma. Stigma can hold many individuals back from seeking treatment and can affect the way medical professionals treat individuals with mental health conditions. Stigma can also foster unfair and harmful perceptions towards individuals with mental health conditions among family, friends, and members of the community. The UK addressed stigma with a campaign called Time to Change, which was shown to improve the attitudes of two million people in the UK, according to Burstow. People who did not present mental health conditions were more willing to live and work with individuals with mental health conditions. Burstow expressed that we must move away from a transactional view of health care, especially in regard to mental health, and encourage a relational view of this important issue. It takes time, resources, and effort to begin to destigmatize the discussion on mental health, but as Burstow said during his presentation, “You can’t see a glacier move, but it does move.” Working toward a society that does not stigmatize individuals with mental health conditions, a medical perspective that seeks to prevent mental health crises and integrate mental and physical health, and a legislature that promotes policies to keep individuals with mental health conditions safe and supported is a long journey, but a worthwhile one.
UK campaign to end mental health stigma: http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/