Suffolk needs a mental health service focussed on its own needs

Concern has been voiced about more young people experiencing mental health challenges

MP Tom Hunt says there are many excellent community initiatives under way to support mental heath but the trust's failings are unacceptable - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

This week we have seen the report that the Suffolk and Norfolk mental health trust is ‘inadequate’. Radical change is clearly needed here. Mental health can be just as important as physical health, and in the aftermath of lockdowns, it is clear that the attitude towards our psychological wellbeing is changing.

I think it would be fair to say that at least to some extent, there wasn’t a person in the country whose mental health was unaffected by the pandemic. Some more than others, but everyone to some extent. I know mine was.

Not being able to see loved ones, not being able to do many of the things we love, potentially falling ill and losing loved ones and not being able to say goodbye to them. The list goes on.

Even as life gets back to normal, challenges around the cost of living will undoubtedly also be impacting mental health and wellbeing.

It seems that one of the few silver linings of the pandemic is that awareness of mental health has never been so high.

I remember the first time I saw my dad outside following the onset of the pandemic. I was struck when he raised the topic of mental health. A few years ago this is not the sort you’d expect to hear my dad talking about. Perhaps that is something to do with the British stiff upper lip, or perhaps something to do with the fact that men - particularly from a certain generation - are unlikely to feel comfortable talking about their own mental health and wellbeing. For many, there has been a stigma surrounding this topic. I thought the fact that my dad felt able to raise this with me was a positive sign that awareness of these issues is increasing, and the attitude towards them was changing.

Mental health is clearly an issue for all but there does seem to be a particular problem with men who are less likely to feel comfortable opening up. It is incredibly sad that suicide is actually the single biggest cause of death of men under the age of 45. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is their tendency to bottle problems up until they become too much to handle.

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This is something I wanted to raise as particularly important, and a priority for Ipswich, as we have just seen a report showing the failings the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT), which has been rated inadequate. This is clearly unacceptable. I am genuinely appalled to see reports that the trust has been called the ‘worst mental health trust in the country’. It seems that people in Ipswich have been let down by this service. At a time when mental health is incredibly important, this quality of provision is absolutely unacceptable.

Radical action is clearly needed to improve the clinical side of mental health support. The report on the NSFT cited waiting lists as one of the reasons for the downgrading as well as noting inadequate training for new staff alongside failures in learning from past incidents. I’ve heard that the issues in this organisation are no reflection on the hard work and dedication of the front-line staff and the nurses who try their best for every patient. The problems here lie in the management of the organisation, and it is clearly something which needs to change.

The report is particularly shocking because we have been here so many times, and the problems have been going on for so long. It seems like a culture of failing in this trust. I think the only way to break this cycle of failings is to break apart the organisation and have two separate services for the two different counties, where the Suffolk trust is localised and more responsive to Suffolk’s needs.

However, I am also keen to see projects in Ipswich which show community-orientated early intervention into mental health. These initiatives are important in preventing some cases of mental health issues from developing into severe crises.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt.

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt. - Credit: House of Commons

Across the town there is a real recognition of the importance of mental health. There have been some great grassroots initiatives. I remember being approached by Penny, the landlady of the Kingfisher Pub in Chantry, who wanted to establish a men’s mental wellbeing group. She has since secured an allotment on Robin Drive for the group where they come together with the collective purpose of producing vegetables which go straight to the pub’s tables.

Also in Chantry, Vicki Mann at the library has been a huge driving force when it comes to initiatives for mental health. She has helped establish the “Men Can Talk” mental wellbeing group which meets 6-8pm at the library on Hawthorne Drive. I was able to attend one of their meetings a couple of weeks ago. It’s really important that these groups exist and give men a space to talk freely and without stigma.

Suffolk MIND also plays a big role in the community intervention aspect of mental wellbeing locally. Organisations like Suffolk MIND are absolutely vital when it comes to supporting people through difficult times, making sure information is available on where to get help.

It’s great that there is a recognition of the reluctance of many to seek support when it comes to men’s mental health, and that initiatives are up and running locally to offer help. However, it is clear that challenges remain. Having spoken to Penny about this recently, I’ve been told that many still don’t feel confident enough to come forward and open up about any issue they’re having. Many feel like they aren’t struggling ‘enough’ to justify talking to someone about it. There is still a way to go in terms of the attitudes towards getting support.

Recently I’ve been part of a number of discussions at Number 10 Downing Street about the whole agenda around mental health. I’m currently receiving Mental Health First Aid training from the Samaritans. My colleague Dean Russell is currently backing a Bill that would make it a requirement for every workplace to have someone who is Mental Health First Aid trained. This is something that has my full backing.

It’s clear to me that, without doubt, part of our response to the mental health challenge must be early intervention and having strong wellbeing groups within communities, schools and workplaces. It can’t just be about the clinical side of things, though clearly this is incredibly important too.

If people don’t feel able to talk about issues and bottle them up, then often the problem can mount and become more serious. For all of us, mental wellbeing is something we need to be constantly thinking about and on top of.