The #DefeatingDepression event, broadly explored two questions: ‘What progress has been made in treating depression in the last twenty years?’ and ‘How should mental health conditions be addressed in the future?
We were delighted that Sue Baker, Director of the organisation Time to Change came to chair the debate. She was joined by five panellists with a combination of professional expertise and lived experience who were invited to join us to speak from their own perspective for a few minutes on the topic,
The panellists were:
- Consultant Perinatal Psychiatrist, Professor Louise Howard;
- Kevan Jones MP (who in recent years has spoken out in parliament about his own psychological breakdown);
- Joint Commissioner for the NEW Devon Commissioning Group, Gavin Thistlethwaite;
- Chair of the University’s Mood Disorders Centre Lived Experience Group, Julie Harvey;
- Local GP, Dr Niall Macleod.
The contributions from the panellists, and the audience participation that followed, reflected a range of current anxieties about mental health care in the UK. Most prominent among these was the importance of preventing depression by promoting resilience and combatting a host of social and economic problems that are known to cause vulnerability to the most common mental disorders.
Niall Macleod and Gavin Thistlethwaite identified a range of social problems such as isolation and poverty that impact negatively on mental and physical health. Tackling these issues, they argued, requires a new model of healthcare in which we must firstly look to our own communities to foster and renew social relationships and promote social cohesion.
Secondly, they noted, ‘patients’ will increasingly dictate the direction of service provision with personalised care and personal budgets. ‘Men in suits’, argued Gavin, ‘may collect the data’; however, ‘service-users are now beginning to dictate the interventions they want’.
Central to these developments nonetheless, must be government support that is genuinely committed to parity of esteem in terms of funding between physical and mental health. Action, not words, argued Keven Jones, is what is required.
Particular groups were identified as being especially vulnerable, with recent cuts to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) being viewed as of particular concern.
Louise Howard proposed that equitable distribution of funding was essential and should be ring-fenced. However, to separate physical health from mental health in the first place was in fact entirely illogical, she noted. This was a point reflected strongly in Julie Harvey’s honest (and at times moving) account of her own experience, in which she reminded the audience that the way in which she presented with depression was often with physical symptoms that led her initially to A and E. Similarly, many physical illnesses and chronic disorders may lead to symptoms of depression.
Despite such palpable concerns and anxieties, the most important message of the evening was nonetheless one of optimism. In terms of service provision, Gavin Thistlethwaite reminded us that the concept of user-engagement and personalised commissioning now underpins the framework of the Care and Quality Commission and provision of services.
Perhaps most strikingly, the personal accounts of depression from the panellists and the audience also served to remind us all that people with mental illness make significant and positive contributions to society. On a personal level, Kevan Jones pointed out that depression had, in many ways made him a better person – it was, he noted, ‘part of him’.
The evening was enhanced by the hospitality of the staff at the RAMM and a collection of stands showcasing the University’s research on mental health from the Medical School, the Centre for Medical History and the Mood Disorders Centre.
Meg Smith, a local artist, displayed a selection of her striking photographs depicting depression.
Double Elephant, known and respected locally for their work in mental health, also displayed a range of artwork.
The organisers would like to thank everyone who contributed to or was involved with the evening and we look forward to fostering further links with local organisations and individuals working in the field of mental health.
The public event organised by the University’s Centre for Medical History, in conjunction with the Humanities and Social Science research strategy, took place at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum on 24th June