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Debate highlights Norfolk mental health issues   

The life-changing nature of mental health was dramatically brought home to the audience of an open forum event at Revelation in Norwich this week (April 16) which featured a high-profile panel of experts. Keith Morris reports.

The “Thursday's child - mental health in Norwich” forum featured thoughts on the state of current mental health issues from chair of Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) Gary Page, CEO of Norwich Mind Amanda Hedley, former district coroner and sheriff of Norwich William Armstrong and former High Sheriff of Norwich Lady Pippa Dannatt.
But it was the heart-wrenching testimony of Revelation Resource Centre manager Steve Foyster which seized the attention of a 40-strong audience.
In February 1986, Steve found himself standing on the edge of a multi-storey car park in central Norwich deciding whether to jump or not, having suffered from severe depression for several months. He was talked down by a stranger but eventually sectioned on April 1 that year, having also tried to take overdoses and slit his wrists, being admitted to the Norvic mental health clinic in Norwich.
Following his discharge Steve somehow gained a new job as assistant manager at a Norwich bookshop. However on May 16 that same year, Steve actually carried through what he had seriously considered three months previously and, as a result, suffered multiple injuries including a punctured lung, shattered ankle, ruptured nerves, fractured pelvis and a compacted lumbar vertebrae. 
He spent six months in hospitals, where the nursing care was second to none but Steve was only visited once by a psychiatric nurse. Eventually he had one-to-one sessions with a student community psychiatrist. “Finally I had found somebody who had time to sit and listen to me,” said Steve.
MentalHealth450Following Steve,  Gary Page, Chair of Norfolk & Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, said: “When you hear the stories of vulnerable people, such as the one Steve has just bravely shared, it really brings home how important it is to get things right in this area in Norfolk and Suffolk and I am the first person to admit that we have some way to go.”
Mental health in Norfolk and Suffolk has faced very difficult times in recent years with a merger and service redesign, and Gary admitted that, “although the principles behind it were right, the execution of it was poor and some of the assumptions it was based upon were flawed.”
Gary went on to talk about the challenges the NSFT was now facing, as it has been put into special measures by the Care Quality Commission, and what it was doing about it. The CQC highlighted the caring nature of the staff across the Trust but said challenges remained around leadership and safety and quality of services and significant issues around the way mental health services are funded.
A new executive leadership team is in place said Gary, “but we need to listen more to what our staff and our service users are telling us and where things are wrong we need to respond.”
Measures include introducing a new single electronic patient record, an investment of £2.6m in additional staff, reopening extra bed spaces in Norwich and investment in real estate. This comes against a background of real financial pressure, said Gary, “But if national guidance is not being observed we have said for the first time we will go to arbitration. We cannot stand and watch additional cuts being made to mental health.”
CEO of Norwich & Central Norfolk Mind, Amanda Hedley, explained how the third sector plays a very important role in mental health across Norfolk. Norwich Mind, one of the biggest branches in the country, has an income of £3m (compared to £200m for NSFT) and employs 130 staff plus many volunteers. As a small local organization, Mind can be flexible, approachable and responsive alongside national checks and balances, explained Amanda.
Former Norfolk coroner and sheriff of Norwich, William Armstrong, who is also a mental health tribunal judge, pointed out that one in four people will be affected by a mental health condition sometime in their life. “Mental health is a seriously disabling and disadvantaging thing to encounter,” he said. “People with schizophrenia for example are likely to live ten or 11 years less than the rest of us.
“‘Parity of esteem’ is much talked about, which means that people with mental health conditions should be treated on a par with people with physical conditions. The reality is, of course, very different - mental health accounts for 22% of all illnesses, but gets only 11% of the national health budget.
“There is also a fundamental issue about how we as a society and individuals see mental health problems,” said William.  “There is an enormous stigma attached to mental health which we need to confront - we tend to define people by their mental health condition.
“Depression is an illness not a moral weakness. We all need a much more compassionate understanding about mental health.
“I am very encouraged by the progress the Trust is making and under the leadership of Gary, and chief executive Michael Scott, things are moving forward.
Former High Sheriff of Norwich, and trained counsellor, Lady Pippa Dannatt, rounded off the presentations by giving her backing to the new executive of the NSFT, after seeing its work during her year in the sheriff’s office.
She pointed out that suicide is still the major cause of death of young men under the age of 35.
“Stigma means ‘mark of shame’,” said Pippa, “and I don’t think any of us will finish campaigning on this until that mark of shame is entirely eradicated. I want there to be a time when there is no mark of shame connected with mental illness.”
The Forum took place at the Revelation Christian Resources Centre, St Michael at Plea Church, Redwell Street in Norwich.
A discussion evening on dementia will take place at Revelation on Tuesday May 19 from 6.30pm. It will be led by Zena Aldridge from Age UK Norfolk, and former lead Admiral Nurse for the Norfolk & Suffolk Foundation Trust which provides support to family carers and people with dementia in Norfolk. Free admissions (coffee, tea and biscuits £2).
Please telephone or email to reserve a place, on 01603 619731 or norwichcrc@btconnect.com

Pictured above is the mental health discussion panel at Revelation, from left, William Armstrong, Gary Page, Steve Foyster and Amanda Hedley.


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