Mental health in the media: parity of esteem

18 Nov

Over the past few days, I’ve tweeted 3 stories on the theme of parity of esteem for physical and mental illness. I’ve been thinking about the comparison between assessment and treatment for physical and mental health problems; and how waiting for mental health treatment isn’t viewed in the same way as waiting for treatment for a physical healthcare problem. Here I’ve drawn those 3 stories together in one place.

The first story arose from a press report of a 13-year old who had to wait 48 hours to have a pencil embedded in his hand removed (the photo is gruesome!); I wondered if a wait for mental health treatment would attract the same outcry.

The second story followed on from that, after a tweep sent me to a link to a story where someone experiencing a mental health crisis was told to drink warm milk; they ended up trying to take their own life, attacking his father and being sectioned for a month. But at least the unacceptability of the delay in receiving help was reported.

The third and final story is about children who police believed were suffering a mental health crisis being made to wait for assessment by doctors in adult police cells. Appalling.

In all 3 stories, the theme for me was that physical and mental health emergencies were not viewed with the same sense of urgency. Assessment or treatment of a mental health problem can wait as, “it’s just mental health”. Read on to find out more.


(1) Waiting for treatment for a pencil embedded in the hand!

The first story arose from a Sun newspaper feature on a teenager who’d waited 2 days for treatment for a pencil embedded in his hand. The photo is gruesome.

An NHS hospital sent the boy home twice, in terrible pain. He had to wait 48 hours before the pencil embedded in his hand was removed by surgeons. Ouch.

Why highlight this story? Because I can’t imagine the media ever being up in arms about someone waiting 2 days for mental health treatment. Read why I say this, other tweeps’ responses and more about this story here.


(2) The wait for mental health crisis treatment makes the news!

This was astory sent to me in response to the one above. I’d lamented on Twitter that a wait for mental health treatment would never make the news. And – ta dah! – a tweep sent me this one.

It’s the story of Crawford Buchan, who waited over 48 hours for mental health treatment and ended up sectioned for 4 week. During the wait, he’d asked for help several times as he’d deteriorated, and ended up trying to take his own life and attacking his father.

It’s a positive story in the sense that a delay of several days in getting treatment for a relapse in bipolar disorder was reported as being unacceptable. Good news!

You can read the story, and also watch Mr Buchan describe what happened in his own words. As Mr Buchan says, “There’s nobody that knows you better than yourself and I know myself when I’m getting unwell. It’s imperative that people with bipolar are listened to when they say, ‘I don’t thnk I’m right’.”

The hilarious twist to the story was the advice Mr Buchan was given by the NHS after he’d called several times asking for help. He was told to drink warm milk!

Read more about this story here.


(3) Hundreds of children wait in police cells

The third story in this trilogy concerns today’s report on BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme that, last year, nearl 350 children were held in police cells awaiting assessment for a mental health emergency.

That’s 347 children who needed to be assessed by doctors who were made to wait locked in police cells. Dr Clare Gerada, chair of the Royal College of GPs, tweeted: “Children held in cells as police thought they were mentally ill. Must get parity of esteem between physical and mental health.”

Read the story to see Dr Gerada’s comments on this, including her conversation with Kay Sheldon (of the Care Quality Commission) and Simon Cole (the Association of Chief Police Officers’ lead on mental health).

You’ll also see, at the foot of the story, a convesation I had with a child and adolescent psychiatrist based in London which opened my eyes to how some view mental health emergencies …



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