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March 07, 2011

It’s okay to talk about mental health – honest

Model of brain with mental health related headlines behind

By Dr. Matthew Broome, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Warwick Medical School

Last week the Psychology Society hosted ‘mental health awareness week’ on campus and I was delighted to see mental health being discussed and debated out in the open. So often, issues such as sectioning, depression or schizophrenia are things which are never mentioned – even among close family members.

The area of mental health in which I work both clinically and academically is Early Intervention and I look at ways of delivering services for young people with early psychosis.

Psychosis is the term given to certain signs and symptoms such as delusions or hallucinations. There are many ways to be ‘psychotic’ including mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder, but other causes such as dementia, drug intoxication or withdrawal, and neurological illnesses such as epilepsy can also present to health professionals with these symptoms.

In addition to my academic post at Warwick Medical School, I am Consultant Psychiatrist to the Coventry Early Intervention Team and as such see all young people who develop a psychotic illness in Coventry. The tricky part is that there is no sharp divide between psychosis and non-psychosis; many people who would be considered to be functioning well, are not distressed, may too have psychotic experiences, albeit less intense and frequently, and not accompanied by depression and anxiety. Schizophrenia, by contrast, is defined by a certain combination of psychotic symptoms, but with a level of intensity that persists for at least one month, and is accompanied by functional impairment.

The aims of Early Intervention services nationally, and one we are particularly passionate about in our team in Coventry, is to be flexible in our approach and to see young people in non-stigmatising settings at times that suit them. The hope is that with rapid recognition of psychosis and early treatment, using both pharmacological and psychological interventions, that the outcome and prognosis improves markedly.

Data over the last 10 years has shown that Early Intervention is not only effective clinically but also is highly cost-effective, saving the NHS about £5,000 per patient per year compared with having to treat someone whose illness has been allowed to develop unchecked, and access standard services at a later date.

Psychosis and schizophrenia, despite the advances made, continue to be disorders that hit young people at crucial times of their lives: late adolescence and early adulthood, when exams are taken, they start university and make a transition to independence. At this crucial time, recognising the earliest signs of potentially serious mental illness is crucial as, if effective treatment is given early, a lifetime of suffering may be averted.

So my advice would always be: don’t be afraid or embarrassed to seek help. One in four of us is likely to suffer from some form of mental health issue in our lifetime, so do not merely brush symptoms aside – there are people who can help and make a difference.

For more information see:

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