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Mental health support in schools: ‘Families don’t have to spend years on waiting lists’

When Grace Hartill was 11, she began to show the first signs of anxiety. Within a few years, the Barnsley schoolgirl had become withdrawn and had stopped wanting to see her friends.

“It was awful,” she says. “I didn’t want to leave my bedroom because I felt like if I did, something would happen to me or somebody I loved. Home was where I felt safest, so I just isolated myself. I barely went to school.”

As her mental health worsened, she was referred to child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) but was on the waiting list for two years. When she finally did get treatment, it didn’t help. She adds: “Camhs and the other services I tried just didn’t help. I felt like the therapists didn’t want to be there.”

It wasn’t until a groundbreaking service, MindSpace, launched in her school that Grace began to experience some relief. Funded by Barnsley clinical commissioning group (CCG) through its Future in Mind fund, the initiative works by embedding mental health practitioners in secondary schools so children don’t have to be taken out of school to access treatment. The scheme, originally piloted last academic year by 10 schools and officially launched in October 2017, aims to tackle poor mental health while bypassing traditional services, which are seeing rising demand coupled with insufficient capacity.

Consisting of three primary health practitioners, a parent counsellor, a family support worker and an emotional health support worker, the MindSpace team offers one-to-one sessions and groups for specific issues such as bereavement. It is led by Michelle Sault, head of extended services at the Wellspring Academy Trust, who came up with the idea after running a pupil referral unit, and seeing children who she believed didn’t belong there.

“I think school is where a young person should be,” Sault says. “There are a lot of discrepancies in Camhs, and in schools that don’t have funding to provide as much pastoral support as is needed these days. It’s an injustice in a sense that young people aren’t supported earlier before things escalate.”

Before the launch of MindSpace, Grace’s mother, Lisa Robinson, was at her “wit’s end”; her son was struggling with anxiety and behavioural issues, and she also has mental health problems. She remembers: “None of us were in a good place. I thought we should give it a go and it will either work or it won’t. Thankfully it did. Grace was soon able to identify when she was having anxiety attacks and to understand that she wasn’t going to die.”

Within a few months, there was a marked improvement in the household. Both children were going to school without problems and Robinson, who was one of 63 parents who also received counselling, felt better than she had in years. “I think it’s amazing to have it in schools so that families don’t have to spend years on waiting lists and the whole family can be helped,” she says.

Grace agrees: “It made all three of us happier. It’s like we were searching for something that wasn’t there and then it came along. It really worked wonders. Compared to other services I tried, I felt like MindSpace really wanted to be there and they wanted to listen to me. They understood what I was going through and made me realise I wasn’t the only one going through it.”

Funding for the £1.3m programme, which is delivered in all Barnsley secondary schools, is guaranteed until at least 2020. In its first year, more than 200 young people have been supported and more than 100 teachers trained by Sheffield-based mental health charity Chilypep. The training is being rolled out to all staff in all the schools – and one of the key aims is to create an environment where everyone can be open about mental health and wellbeing.

Patrick Otway, head of commissioning for Barnsley CCG, says that while no formal evaluation has been published yet, numerous positive case studies have been gathered – and a full impact assessment is on the cards. “In 2013, we had gathered evidence that there was very little support for young people in Barnsley for lower level emotional needs,” he says. “At the time, there was no funding to develop the service – so when the Future in Mind report and funding became available, the CCG already knew what was needed.”

Statistics show that one in 10 children has depression, anxiety or another diagnosable mental health problem – so the MindSpace team hope to see the model rolled out nationally. Brigid Reid, chief nurse for the CCG, says it’s this combining of health and education that makes the scheme successful. “Having [Sault’s] insights into how schools work and what students and parents need, think and feel – and to marry that with the expertise of the practitioners employed, that’s what makes it unique,” she says.

Mental health practitioner Angela Yildiz agrees. “Education and health do work well together,” she says. “Initially there were some difficulties given this has never been done. But the teachers really work with me, not against me.”

For Kate Davies, headteacher at one of the schools, Darton college, the best thing about the scheme is it means teachers can concentrate on what they do best. “The concept of having trained mental health practitioners as part of the school – and ours really is part of the team – is so simple yet so obvious,” she says.

For Robinson’s family, the difference has been almost unbelievable, especially in Grace. “One day Grace came home from school and just said casually that she was going to her friend’s house. I could not believe what she was saying. That was the turnaround for Grace. She is now doing performing arts at college and is learning to drive. It’s the best decision I made as a mum, and as an individual.”

Join the Healthcare Professionals Network to read more pieces like this. And follow us on Twitter (@GdnHealthcare) to keep up with the latest healthcare news and views.

If you’re looking for a healthcare job or need to recruit staff, visit Guardian Jobs.

Mental health support in schools: ‘Families don’t have to spend years on waiting lists’

When Grace Hartill was 11, she began to show the first signs of anxiety. Within a few years, the Barnsley schoolgirl had become withdrawn and had stopped wanting to see her friends.

“It was awful,” she says. “I didn’t want to leave my bedroom because I felt like if I did, something would happen to me or somebody I loved. Home was where I felt safest, so I just isolated myself. I barely went to school.”

As her mental health worsened, she was referred to child and adolescent mental health services (Camhs) but was on the waiting list for two years. When she finally did get treatment, it didn’t help. She adds: “Camhs and the other services I tried just didn’t help. I felt like the therapists didn’t want to be there.”

It wasn’t until a groundbreaking service, MindSpace, launched in her school that Grace began to experience some relief. Funded by Barnsley clinical commissioning group (CCG) through its Future in Mind fund, the initiative works by embedding mental health practitioners in secondary schools so children don’t have to be taken out of school to access treatment. The scheme, originally piloted last academic year by 10 schools and officially launched in October 2017, aims to tackle poor mental health while bypassing traditional services, which are seeing rising demand coupled with insufficient capacity.

Consisting of three primary health practitioners, a parent counsellor, a family support worker and an emotional health support worker, the MindSpace team offers one-to-one sessions and groups for specific issues such as bereavement. It is led by Michelle Sault, head of extended services at the Wellspring Academy Trust, who came up with the idea after running a pupil referral unit, and seeing children who she believed didn’t belong there.

“I think school is where a young person should be,” Sault says. “There are a lot of discrepancies in Camhs, and in schools that don’t have funding to provide as much pastoral support as is needed these days. It’s an injustice in a sense that young people aren’t supported earlier before things escalate.”

Before the launch of MindSpace, Grace’s mother, Lisa Robinson, was at her “wit’s end”; her son was struggling with anxiety and behavioural issues, and she also has mental health problems. She remembers: “None of us were in a good place. I thought we should give it a go and it will either work or it won’t. Thankfully it did. Grace was soon able to identify when she was having anxiety attacks and to understand that she wasn’t going to die.”

Within a few months, there was a marked improvement in the household. Both children were going to school without problems and Robinson, who was one of 63 parents who also received counselling, felt better than she had in years. “I think it’s amazing to have it in schools so that families don’t have to spend years on waiting lists and the whole family can be helped,” she says.

Grace agrees: “It made all three of us happier. It’s like we were searching for something that wasn’t there and then it came along. It really worked wonders. Compared to other services I tried, I felt like MindSpace really wanted to be there and they wanted to listen to me. They understood what I was going through and made me realise I wasn’t the only one going through it.”

Funding for the £1.3m programme, which is delivered in all Barnsley secondary schools, is guaranteed until at least 2020. In its first year, more than 200 young people have been supported and more than 100 teachers trained by Sheffield-based mental health charity Chilypep. The training is being rolled out to all staff in all the schools – and one of the key aims is to create an environment where everyone can be open about mental health and wellbeing.

Patrick Otway, head of commissioning for Barnsley CCG, says that while no formal evaluation has been published yet, numerous positive case studies have been gathered – and a full impact assessment is on the cards. “In 2013, we had gathered evidence that there was very little support for young people in Barnsley for lower level emotional needs,” he says. “At the time, there was no funding to develop the service – so when the Future in Mind report and funding became available, the CCG already knew what was needed.”

Statistics show that one in 10 children has depression, anxiety or another diagnosable mental health problem – so the MindSpace team hope to see the model rolled out nationally. Brigid Reid, chief nurse for the CCG, says it’s this combining of health and education that makes the scheme successful. “Having [Sault’s] insights into how schools work and what students and parents need, think and feel – and to marry that with the expertise of the practitioners employed, that’s what makes it unique,” she says.

Mental health practitioner Angela Yildiz agrees. “Education and health do work well together,” she says. “Initially there were some difficulties given this has never been done. But the teachers really work with me, not against me.”

For Kate Davies, headteacher at one of the schools, Darton college, the best thing about the scheme is it means teachers can concentrate on what they do best. “The concept of having trained mental health practitioners as part of the school – and ours really is part of the team – is so simple yet so obvious,” she says.

For Robinson’s family, the difference has been almost unbelievable, especially in Grace. “One day Grace came home from school and just said casually that she was going to her friend’s house. I could not believe what she was saying. That was the turnaround for Grace. She is now doing performing arts at college and is learning to drive. It’s the best decision I made as a mum, and as an individual.”

Join the Healthcare Professionals Network to read more pieces like this. And follow us on Twitter (@GdnHealthcare) to keep up with the latest healthcare news and views.

If you’re looking for a healthcare job or need to recruit staff, visit Guardian Jobs.

Those who need it most don’t get psychiatric care. It’s a mental health crisis | Vyom Sharma

What, precisely, is a crisis? Generally, things have to get pretty bad to be defined as one. “Housing”, “North Korean”, and ”global financial” have all seemed to earn that suffix. The problem with defining “crisis” is partly one of banality through overuse – if you believe even half of what you read, we are perpetually beset by it, in one form or another. So hearing the c-word in a context anything less than epic tends to be accompanied with a faint echo of hyperbole, and twinges of cynicism.

This cynicism can be a trap – it certainly was for me. Within the last decade of practicing medicine, I felt like if I had a dollar for every time I heard the words “mental health crisis”, I could single-handedly fund its fix. The phrase became a cliché. Over time, experience within the system bred familiarity, which spawned complacency.

Crisis is a word without a standard metric, common barometer, and sharp threshold. Its precise definition is akin to asking how long a piece of rope is. The only true answer is that it depends. But you know when you have enough to tie a noose. This week we’ve learned precisely how long that piece of rope is: a Victorian man who killed his mother amid a psychotic episode had to wait 14 months for a bed in a psychiatric hospital.

This is a new low. It’s bad enough that people die without getting adequate psychiatric help. But it turns out even killing someone else isn’t enough to qualify for psychiatric care. This is about as clear a demonstration of a “mental health crisis” as we will get.

To attribute this failure to an unfortunate lapse is to deny the very real, systemic problems that arise from mental healthcare being underfunded. This event did not occur in a vacuum. A deeper look exposes how the system, in its current state, is geared to end in such horrors.

Often the people most seriously afflicted by mental illness are the poorest, who cannot afford private psychiatric care. The problem is that publicly funded outpatient clinics are in very short supply. So often the only way to access psychiatric care out in the community is through “Catt” – Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team. That’s right, the only guaranteed way to be quickly linked in with publicly funded psychiatric care is to be in crisis. That’s how the system works.

Many patients have only this option available because they are in a strange chasm – not unwell enough to warrant a 000 call, but too unwell to wait weeks to see a private psychiatrist even if they can afford to see one. So the Catt service is often overburdened. GPs around Australia have a morose, longstanding joke about this; we say that the letters in Catt stand for “Can’t Attend Today Team”. When the “crisis” team is too busy to attend, you know there’s a problem.

This is not an indictment on the service – far from it. To say it is “overloaded” is like calling an acrobatic plate spinner “busy”. It is a job requiring a rare constitution – infinite patience, high stakes decisions, the ability to treat people who are of threat to themselves and others, and being firsthand witness to tragedy after tragedy. I’ve often seen Catt workers as patients for their own mental health. It might be a crisis in and of itself.

Depressingly, it seems the people viewing the situation with most clarity might be our youngest. Findings from Mission Australia Survey published this week show that Australians aged 15 to 19 ranked mental health as the issue of greatest national concern. Most worryingly, they identified mental health as an impediment to their future pursuits. The nurturing of at-risk adolescents through mental healthcare ought to bolster their optimism, but the failings of our system might be eroding it.

Statistics and position statements fail to capture these moments of clarity about our health system. And sometimes, reading cold statistics on per-capita funding, or wait times, without having to personally experience their impact, lulls you into the trap of confusing complaints for hyperbole.

There is another trap we can fall into. It’s one I was in for years. That trap is the belief that Australian healthcare, ranked consistently within the top-ten in the world is, overall, brilliant. That statement is undeniably true, and yet the key word here is “overall”.

If you forget those with mental illness, Indigenous Australians, LGBTIQ community, refugees and other at-risk groups, we’re doing spectacularly. The problem is that we are a country largely composed of at-risk groups. If you aren’t marginalised in this country, chances are you once were, or are descended from someone who was, or are shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who stands at the margins. And it’s at the margins where crisis thrives. That’s where we have to look to see the crisis for what it truly is.

Dr Vyom Sharma is a GP in Melbourne and a health commentator

Those who need it most don’t get psychiatric care. It’s a mental health crisis | Vyom Sharma

What, precisely, is a crisis? Generally, things have to get pretty bad to be defined as one. “Housing”, “North Korean”, and ”global financial” have all seemed to earn that suffix. The problem with defining “crisis” is partly one of banality through overuse – if you believe even half of what you read, we are perpetually beset by it, in one form or another. So hearing the c-word in a context anything less than epic tends to be accompanied with a faint echo of hyperbole, and twinges of cynicism.

This cynicism can be a trap – it certainly was for me. Within the last decade of practicing medicine, I felt like if I had a dollar for every time I heard the words “mental health crisis”, I could single-handedly fund its fix. The phrase became a cliché. Over time, experience within the system bred familiarity, which spawned complacency.

Crisis is a word without a standard metric, common barometer, and sharp threshold. Its precise definition is akin to asking how long a piece of rope is. The only true answer is that it depends. But you know when you have enough to tie a noose. This week we’ve learned precisely how long that piece of rope is: a Victorian man who killed his mother amid a psychotic episode had to wait 14 months for a bed in a psychiatric hospital.

This is a new low. It’s bad enough that people die without getting adequate psychiatric help. But it turns out even killing someone else isn’t enough to qualify for psychiatric care. This is about as clear a demonstration of a “mental health crisis” as we will get.

To attribute this failure to an unfortunate lapse is to deny the very real, systemic problems that arise from mental healthcare being underfunded. This event did not occur in a vacuum. A deeper look exposes how the system, in its current state, is geared to end in such horrors.

Often the people most seriously afflicted by mental illness are the poorest, who cannot afford private psychiatric care. The problem is that publicly funded outpatient clinics are in very short supply. So often the only way to access psychiatric care out in the community is through “Catt” – Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team. That’s right, the only guaranteed way to be quickly linked in with publicly funded psychiatric care is to be in crisis. That’s how the system works.

Many patients have only this option available because they are in a strange chasm – not unwell enough to warrant a 000 call, but too unwell to wait weeks to see a private psychiatrist even if they can afford to see one. So the Catt service is often overburdened. GPs around Australia have a morose, longstanding joke about this; we say that the letters in Catt stand for “Can’t Attend Today Team”. When the “crisis” team is too busy to attend, you know there’s a problem.

This is not an indictment on the service – far from it. To say it is “overloaded” is like calling an acrobatic plate spinner “busy”. It is a job requiring a rare constitution – infinite patience, high stakes decisions, the ability to treat people who are of threat to themselves and others, and being firsthand witness to tragedy after tragedy. I’ve often seen Catt workers as patients for their own mental health. It might be a crisis in and of itself.

Depressingly, it seems the people viewing the situation with most clarity might be our youngest. Findings from Mission Australia Survey published this week show that Australians aged 15 to 19 ranked mental health as the issue of greatest national concern. Most worryingly, they identified mental health as an impediment to their future pursuits. The nurturing of at-risk adolescents through mental healthcare ought to bolster their optimism, but the failings of our system might be eroding it.

Statistics and position statements fail to capture these moments of clarity about our health system. And sometimes, reading cold statistics on per-capita funding, or wait times, without having to personally experience their impact, lulls you into the trap of confusing complaints for hyperbole.

There is another trap we can fall into. It’s one I was in for years. That trap is the belief that Australian healthcare, ranked consistently within the top-ten in the world is, overall, brilliant. That statement is undeniably true, and yet the key word here is “overall”.

If you forget those with mental illness, Indigenous Australians, LGBTIQ community, refugees and other at-risk groups, we’re doing spectacularly. The problem is that we are a country largely composed of at-risk groups. If you aren’t marginalised in this country, chances are you once were, or are descended from someone who was, or are shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who stands at the margins. And it’s at the margins where crisis thrives. That’s where we have to look to see the crisis for what it truly is.

Dr Vyom Sharma is a GP in Melbourne and a health commentator

Those who need it most don’t get psychiatric care. It’s a mental health crisis | Vyom Sharma

What, precisely, is a crisis? Generally, things have to get pretty bad to be defined as one. “Housing”, “North Korean”, and ”global financial” have all seemed to earn that suffix. The problem with defining “crisis” is partly one of banality through overuse – if you believe even half of what you read, we are perpetually beset by it, in one form or another. So hearing the c-word in a context anything less than epic tends to be accompanied with a faint echo of hyperbole, and twinges of cynicism.

This cynicism can be a trap – it certainly was for me. Within the last decade of practicing medicine, I felt like if I had a dollar for every time I heard the words “mental health crisis”, I could single-handedly fund its fix. The phrase became a cliché. Over time, experience within the system bred familiarity, which spawned complacency.

Crisis is a word without a standard metric, common barometer, and sharp threshold. Its precise definition is akin to asking how long a piece of rope is. The only true answer is that it depends. But you know when you have enough to tie a noose. This week we’ve learned precisely how long that piece of rope is: a Victorian man who killed his mother amid a psychotic episode had to wait 14 months for a bed in a psychiatric hospital.

This is a new low. It’s bad enough that people die without getting adequate psychiatric help. But it turns out even killing someone else isn’t enough to qualify for psychiatric care. This is about as clear a demonstration of a “mental health crisis” as we will get.

To attribute this failure to an unfortunate lapse is to deny the very real, systemic problems that arise from mental healthcare being underfunded. This event did not occur in a vacuum. A deeper look exposes how the system, in its current state, is geared to end in such horrors.

Often the people most seriously afflicted by mental illness are the poorest, who cannot afford private psychiatric care. The problem is that publicly funded outpatient clinics are in very short supply. So often the only way to access psychiatric care out in the community is through “Catt” – Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team. That’s right, the only guaranteed way to be quickly linked in with publicly funded psychiatric care is to be in crisis. That’s how the system works.

Many patients have only this option available because they are in a strange chasm – not unwell enough to warrant a 000 call, but too unwell to wait weeks to see a private psychiatrist even if they can afford to see one. So the Catt service is often overburdened. GPs around Australia have a morose, longstanding joke about this; we say that the letters in Catt stand for “Can’t Attend Today Team”. When the “crisis” team is too busy to attend, you know there’s a problem.

This is not an indictment on the service – far from it. To say it is “overloaded” is like calling an acrobatic plate spinner “busy”. It is a job requiring a rare constitution – infinite patience, high stakes decisions, the ability to treat people who are of threat to themselves and others, and being firsthand witness to tragedy after tragedy. I’ve often seen Catt workers as patients for their own mental health. It might be a crisis in and of itself.

Depressingly, it seems the people viewing the situation with most clarity might be our youngest. Findings from Mission Australia Survey published this week show that Australians aged 15 to 19 ranked mental health as the issue of greatest national concern. Most worryingly, they identified mental health as an impediment to their future pursuits. The nurturing of at-risk adolescents through mental healthcare ought to bolster their optimism, but the failings of our system might be eroding it.

Statistics and position statements fail to capture these moments of clarity about our health system. And sometimes, reading cold statistics on per-capita funding, or wait times, without having to personally experience their impact, lulls you into the trap of confusing complaints for hyperbole.

There is another trap we can fall into. It’s one I was in for years. That trap is the belief that Australian healthcare, ranked consistently within the top-ten in the world is, overall, brilliant. That statement is undeniably true, and yet the key word here is “overall”.

If you forget those with mental illness, Indigenous Australians, LGBTIQ community, refugees and other at-risk groups, we’re doing spectacularly. The problem is that we are a country largely composed of at-risk groups. If you aren’t marginalised in this country, chances are you once were, or are descended from someone who was, or are shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who stands at the margins. And it’s at the margins where crisis thrives. That’s where we have to look to see the crisis for what it truly is.

Dr Vyom Sharma is a GP in Melbourne and a health commentator

Those who need it most don’t get psychiatric care. It’s a mental health crisis | Vyom Sharma

What, precisely, is a crisis? Generally, things have to get pretty bad to be defined as one. “Housing”, “North Korean”, and ”global financial” have all seemed to earn that suffix. The problem with defining “crisis” is partly one of banality through overuse – if you believe even half of what you read, we are perpetually beset by it, in one form or another. So hearing the c-word in a context anything less than epic tends to be accompanied with a faint echo of hyperbole, and twinges of cynicism.

This cynicism can be a trap – it certainly was for me. Within the last decade of practicing medicine, I felt like if I had a dollar for every time I heard the words “mental health crisis”, I could single-handedly fund its fix. The phrase became a cliché. Over time, experience within the system bred familiarity, which spawned complacency.

Crisis is a word without a standard metric, common barometer, and sharp threshold. Its precise definition is akin to asking how long a piece of rope is. The only true answer is that it depends. But you know when you have enough to tie a noose. This week we’ve learned precisely how long that piece of rope is: a Victorian man who killed his mother amid a psychotic episode had to wait 14 months for a bed in a psychiatric hospital.

This is a new low. It’s bad enough that people die without getting adequate psychiatric help. But it turns out even killing someone else isn’t enough to qualify for psychiatric care. This is about as clear a demonstration of a “mental health crisis” as we will get.

To attribute this failure to an unfortunate lapse is to deny the very real, systemic problems that arise from mental healthcare being underfunded. This event did not occur in a vacuum. A deeper look exposes how the system, in its current state, is geared to end in such horrors.

Often the people most seriously afflicted by mental illness are the poorest, who cannot afford private psychiatric care. The problem is that publicly funded outpatient clinics are in very short supply. So often the only way to access psychiatric care out in the community is through “Catt” – Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team. That’s right, the only guaranteed way to be quickly linked in with publicly funded psychiatric care is to be in crisis. That’s how the system works.

Many patients have only this option available because they are in a strange chasm – not unwell enough to warrant a 000 call, but too unwell to wait weeks to see a private psychiatrist even if they can afford to see one. So the Catt service is often overburdened. GPs around Australia have a morose, longstanding joke about this; we say that the letters in Catt stand for “Can’t Attend Today Team”. When the “crisis” team is too busy to attend, you know there’s a problem.

This is not an indictment on the service – far from it. To say it is “overloaded” is like calling an acrobatic plate spinner “busy”. It is a job requiring a rare constitution – infinite patience, high stakes decisions, the ability to treat people who are of threat to themselves and others, and being firsthand witness to tragedy after tragedy. I’ve often seen Catt workers as patients for their own mental health. It might be a crisis in and of itself.

Depressingly, it seems the people viewing the situation with most clarity might be our youngest. Findings from Mission Australia Survey published this week show that Australians aged 15 to 19 ranked mental health as the issue of greatest national concern. Most worryingly, they identified mental health as an impediment to their future pursuits. The nurturing of at-risk adolescents through mental healthcare ought to bolster their optimism, but the failings of our system might be eroding it.

Statistics and position statements fail to capture these moments of clarity about our health system. And sometimes, reading cold statistics on per-capita funding, or wait times, without having to personally experience their impact, lulls you into the trap of confusing complaints for hyperbole.

There is another trap we can fall into. It’s one I was in for years. That trap is the belief that Australian healthcare, ranked consistently within the top-ten in the world is, overall, brilliant. That statement is undeniably true, and yet the key word here is “overall”.

If you forget those with mental illness, Indigenous Australians, LGBTIQ community, refugees and other at-risk groups, we’re doing spectacularly. The problem is that we are a country largely composed of at-risk groups. If you aren’t marginalised in this country, chances are you once were, or are descended from someone who was, or are shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who stands at the margins. And it’s at the margins where crisis thrives. That’s where we have to look to see the crisis for what it truly is.

Dr Vyom Sharma is a GP in Melbourne and a health commentator

Those who need it most don’t get psychiatric care. It’s a mental health crisis | Vyom Sharma

What, precisely, is a crisis? Generally, things have to get pretty bad to be defined as one. “Housing”, “North Korean”, and ”global financial” have all seemed to earn that suffix. The problem with defining “crisis” is partly one of banality through overuse – if you believe even half of what you read, we are perpetually beset by it, in one form or another. So hearing the c-word in a context anything less than epic tends to be accompanied with a faint echo of hyperbole, and twinges of cynicism.

This cynicism can be a trap – it certainly was for me. Within the last decade of practicing medicine, I felt like if I had a dollar for every time I heard the words “mental health crisis”, I could single-handedly fund its fix. The phrase became a cliché. Over time, experience within the system bred familiarity, which spawned complacency.

Crisis is a word without a standard metric, common barometer, and sharp threshold. Its precise definition is akin to asking how long a piece of rope is. The only true answer is that it depends. But you know when you have enough to tie a noose. This week we’ve learned precisely how long that piece of rope is: a Victorian man who killed his mother amid a psychotic episode had to wait 14 months for a bed in a psychiatric hospital.

This is a new low. It’s bad enough that people die without getting adequate psychiatric help. But it turns out even killing someone else isn’t enough to qualify for psychiatric care. This is about as clear a demonstration of a “mental health crisis” as we will get.

To attribute this failure to an unfortunate lapse is to deny the very real, systemic problems that arise from mental healthcare being underfunded. This event did not occur in a vacuum. A deeper look exposes how the system, in its current state, is geared to end in such horrors.

Often the people most seriously afflicted by mental illness are the poorest, who cannot afford private psychiatric care. The problem is that publicly funded outpatient clinics are in very short supply. So often the only way to access psychiatric care out in the community is through “Catt” – Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team. That’s right, the only guaranteed way to be quickly linked in with publicly funded psychiatric care is to be in crisis. That’s how the system works.

Many patients have only this option available because they are in a strange chasm – not unwell enough to warrant a 000 call, but too unwell to wait weeks to see a private psychiatrist even if they can afford to see one. So the Catt service is often overburdened. GPs around Australia have a morose, longstanding joke about this; we say that the letters in Catt stand for “Can’t Attend Today Team”. When the “crisis” team is too busy to attend, you know there’s a problem.

This is not an indictment on the service – far from it. To say it is “overloaded” is like calling an acrobatic plate spinner “busy”. It is a job requiring a rare constitution – infinite patience, high stakes decisions, the ability to treat people who are of threat to themselves and others, and being firsthand witness to tragedy after tragedy. I’ve often seen Catt workers as patients for their own mental health. It might be a crisis in and of itself.

Depressingly, it seems the people viewing the situation with most clarity might be our youngest. Findings from Mission Australia Survey published this week show that Australians aged 15 to 19 ranked mental health as the issue of greatest national concern. Most worryingly, they identified mental health as an impediment to their future pursuits. The nurturing of at-risk adolescents through mental healthcare ought to bolster their optimism, but the failings of our system might be eroding it.

Statistics and position statements fail to capture these moments of clarity about our health system. And sometimes, reading cold statistics on per-capita funding, or wait times, without having to personally experience their impact, lulls you into the trap of confusing complaints for hyperbole.

There is another trap we can fall into. It’s one I was in for years. That trap is the belief that Australian healthcare, ranked consistently within the top-ten in the world is, overall, brilliant. That statement is undeniably true, and yet the key word here is “overall”.

If you forget those with mental illness, Indigenous Australians, LGBTIQ community, refugees and other at-risk groups, we’re doing spectacularly. The problem is that we are a country largely composed of at-risk groups. If you aren’t marginalised in this country, chances are you once were, or are descended from someone who was, or are shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who stands at the margins. And it’s at the margins where crisis thrives. That’s where we have to look to see the crisis for what it truly is.

Dr Vyom Sharma is a GP in Melbourne and a health commentator

Those who need it most don’t get psychiatric care. It’s a mental health crisis | Vyom Sharma

What, precisely, is a crisis? Generally, things have to get pretty bad to be defined as one. “Housing”, “North Korean”, and ”global financial” have all seemed to earn that suffix. The problem with defining “crisis” is partly one of banality through overuse – if you believe even half of what you read, we are perpetually beset by it, in one form or another. So hearing the c-word in a context anything less than epic tends to be accompanied with a faint echo of hyperbole, and twinges of cynicism.

This cynicism can be a trap – it certainly was for me. Within the last decade of practicing medicine, I felt like if I had a dollar for every time I heard the words “mental health crisis”, I could single-handedly fund its fix. The phrase became a cliché. Over time, experience within the system bred familiarity, which spawned complacency.

Crisis is a word without a standard metric, common barometer, and sharp threshold. Its precise definition is akin to asking how long a piece of rope is. The only true answer is that it depends. But you know when you have enough to tie a noose. This week we’ve learned precisely how long that piece of rope is: a Victorian man who killed his mother amid a psychotic episode had to wait 14 months for a bed in a psychiatric hospital.

This is a new low. It’s bad enough that people die without getting adequate psychiatric help. But it turns out even killing someone else isn’t enough to qualify for psychiatric care. This is about as clear a demonstration of a “mental health crisis” as we will get.

To attribute this failure to an unfortunate lapse is to deny the very real, systemic problems that arise from mental healthcare being underfunded. This event did not occur in a vacuum. A deeper look exposes how the system, in its current state, is geared to end in such horrors.

Often the people most seriously afflicted by mental illness are the poorest, who cannot afford private psychiatric care. The problem is that publicly funded outpatient clinics are in very short supply. So often the only way to access psychiatric care out in the community is through “Catt” – Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team. That’s right, the only guaranteed way to be quickly linked in with publicly funded psychiatric care is to be in crisis. That’s how the system works.

Many patients have only this option available because they are in a strange chasm – not unwell enough to warrant a 000 call, but too unwell to wait weeks to see a private psychiatrist even if they can afford to see one. So the Catt service is often overburdened. GPs around Australia have a morose, longstanding joke about this; we say that the letters in Catt stand for “Can’t Attend Today Team”. When the “crisis” team is too busy to attend, you know there’s a problem.

This is not an indictment on the service – far from it. To say it is “overloaded” is like calling an acrobatic plate spinner “busy”. It is a job requiring a rare constitution – infinite patience, high stakes decisions, the ability to treat people who are of threat to themselves and others, and being firsthand witness to tragedy after tragedy. I’ve often seen Catt workers as patients for their own mental health. It might be a crisis in and of itself.

Depressingly, it seems the people viewing the situation with most clarity might be our youngest. Findings from Mission Australia Survey published this week show that Australians aged 15 to 19 ranked mental health as the issue of greatest national concern. Most worryingly, they identified mental health as an impediment to their future pursuits. The nurturing of at-risk adolescents through mental healthcare ought to bolster their optimism, but the failings of our system might be eroding it.

Statistics and position statements fail to capture these moments of clarity about our health system. And sometimes, reading cold statistics on per-capita funding, or wait times, without having to personally experience their impact, lulls you into the trap of confusing complaints for hyperbole.

There is another trap we can fall into. It’s one I was in for years. That trap is the belief that Australian healthcare, ranked consistently within the top-ten in the world is, overall, brilliant. That statement is undeniably true, and yet the key word here is “overall”.

If you forget those with mental illness, Indigenous Australians, LGBTIQ community, refugees and other at-risk groups, we’re doing spectacularly. The problem is that we are a country largely composed of at-risk groups. If you aren’t marginalised in this country, chances are you once were, or are descended from someone who was, or are shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who stands at the margins. And it’s at the margins where crisis thrives. That’s where we have to look to see the crisis for what it truly is.

Dr Vyom Sharma is a GP in Melbourne and a health commentator

Those who need it most don’t get psychiatric care. It’s a mental health crisis | Vyom Sharma

What, precisely, is a crisis? Generally, things have to get pretty bad to be defined as one. “Housing”, “North Korean”, and ”global financial” have all seemed to earn that suffix. The problem with defining “crisis” is partly one of banality through overuse – if you believe even half of what you read, we are perpetually beset by it, in one form or another. So hearing the c-word in a context anything less than epic tends to be accompanied with a faint echo of hyperbole, and twinges of cynicism.

This cynicism can be a trap – it certainly was for me. Within the last decade of practicing medicine, I felt like if I had a dollar for every time I heard the words “mental health crisis”, I could single-handedly fund its fix. The phrase became a cliché. Over time, experience within the system bred familiarity, which spawned complacency.

Crisis is a word without a standard metric, common barometer, and sharp threshold. Its precise definition is akin to asking how long a piece of rope is. The only true answer is that it depends. But you know when you have enough to tie a noose. This week we’ve learned precisely how long that piece of rope is: a Victorian man who killed his mother amid a psychotic episode had to wait 14 months for a bed in a psychiatric hospital.

This is a new low. It’s bad enough that people die without getting adequate psychiatric help. But it turns out even killing someone else isn’t enough to qualify for psychiatric care. This is about as clear a demonstration of a “mental health crisis” as we will get.

To attribute this failure to an unfortunate lapse is to deny the very real, systemic problems that arise from mental healthcare being underfunded. This event did not occur in a vacuum. A deeper look exposes how the system, in its current state, is geared to end in such horrors.

Often the people most seriously afflicted by mental illness are the poorest, who cannot afford private psychiatric care. The problem is that publicly funded outpatient clinics are in very short supply. So often the only way to access psychiatric care out in the community is through “Catt” – Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team. That’s right, the only guaranteed way to be quickly linked in with publicly funded psychiatric care is to be in crisis. That’s how the system works.

Many patients have only this option available because they are in a strange chasm – not unwell enough to warrant a 000 call, but too unwell to wait weeks to see a private psychiatrist even if they can afford to see one. So the Catt service is often overburdened. GPs around Australia have a morose, longstanding joke about this; we say that the letters in Catt stand for “Can’t Attend Today Team”. When the “crisis” team is too busy to attend, you know there’s a problem.

This is not an indictment on the service – far from it. To say it is “overloaded” is like calling an acrobatic plate spinner “busy”. It is a job requiring a rare constitution – infinite patience, high stakes decisions, the ability to treat people who are of threat to themselves and others, and being firsthand witness to tragedy after tragedy. I’ve often seen Catt workers as patients for their own mental health. It might be a crisis in and of itself.

Depressingly, it seems the people viewing the situation with most clarity might be our youngest. Findings from Mission Australia Survey published this week show that Australians aged 15 to 19 ranked mental health as the issue of greatest national concern. Most worryingly, they identified mental health as an impediment to their future pursuits. The nurturing of at-risk adolescents through mental healthcare ought to bolster their optimism, but the failings of our system might be eroding it.

Statistics and position statements fail to capture these moments of clarity about our health system. And sometimes, reading cold statistics on per-capita funding, or wait times, without having to personally experience their impact, lulls you into the trap of confusing complaints for hyperbole.

There is another trap we can fall into. It’s one I was in for years. That trap is the belief that Australian healthcare, ranked consistently within the top-ten in the world is, overall, brilliant. That statement is undeniably true, and yet the key word here is “overall”.

If you forget those with mental illness, Indigenous Australians, LGBTIQ community, refugees and other at-risk groups, we’re doing spectacularly. The problem is that we are a country largely composed of at-risk groups. If you aren’t marginalised in this country, chances are you once were, or are descended from someone who was, or are shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who stands at the margins. And it’s at the margins where crisis thrives. That’s where we have to look to see the crisis for what it truly is.

Dr Vyom Sharma is a GP in Melbourne and a health commentator

Those who need it most don’t get psychiatric care. It’s a mental health crisis | Vyom Sharma

What, precisely, is a crisis? Generally, things have to get pretty bad to be defined as one. “Housing”, “North Korean”, and ”global financial” have all seemed to earn that suffix. The problem with defining “crisis” is partly one of banality through overuse – if you believe even half of what you read, we are perpetually beset by it, in one form or another. So hearing the c-word in a context anything less than epic tends to be accompanied with a faint echo of hyperbole, and twinges of cynicism.

This cynicism can be a trap – it certainly was for me. Within the last decade of practicing medicine, I felt like if I had a dollar for every time I heard the words “mental health crisis”, I could single-handedly fund its fix. The phrase became a cliché. Over time, experience within the system bred familiarity, which spawned complacency.

Crisis is a word without a standard metric, common barometer, and sharp threshold. Its precise definition is akin to asking how long a piece of rope is. The only true answer is that it depends. But you know when you have enough to tie a noose. This week we’ve learned precisely how long that piece of rope is: a Victorian man who killed his mother amid a psychotic episode had to wait 14 months for a bed in a psychiatric hospital.

This is a new low. It’s bad enough that people die without getting adequate psychiatric help. But it turns out even killing someone else isn’t enough to qualify for psychiatric care. This is about as clear a demonstration of a “mental health crisis” as we will get.

To attribute this failure to an unfortunate lapse is to deny the very real, systemic problems that arise from mental healthcare being underfunded. This event did not occur in a vacuum. A deeper look exposes how the system, in its current state, is geared to end in such horrors.

Often the people most seriously afflicted by mental illness are the poorest, who cannot afford private psychiatric care. The problem is that publicly funded outpatient clinics are in very short supply. So often the only way to access psychiatric care out in the community is through “Catt” – Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team. That’s right, the only guaranteed way to be quickly linked in with publicly funded psychiatric care is to be in crisis. That’s how the system works.

Many patients have only this option available because they are in a strange chasm – not unwell enough to warrant a 000 call, but too unwell to wait weeks to see a private psychiatrist even if they can afford to see one. So the Catt service is often overburdened. GPs around Australia have a morose, longstanding joke about this; we say that the letters in Catt stand for “Can’t Attend Today Team”. When the “crisis” team is too busy to attend, you know there’s a problem.

This is not an indictment on the service – far from it. To say it is “overloaded” is like calling an acrobatic plate spinner “busy”. It is a job requiring a rare constitution – infinite patience, high stakes decisions, the ability to treat people who are of threat to themselves and others, and being firsthand witness to tragedy after tragedy. I’ve often seen Catt workers as patients for their own mental health. It might be a crisis in and of itself.

Depressingly, it seems the people viewing the situation with most clarity might be our youngest. Findings from Mission Australia Survey published this week show that Australians aged 15 to 19 ranked mental health as the issue of greatest national concern. Most worryingly, they identified mental health as an impediment to their future pursuits. The nurturing of at-risk adolescents through mental healthcare ought to bolster their optimism, but the failings of our system might be eroding it.

Statistics and position statements fail to capture these moments of clarity about our health system. And sometimes, reading cold statistics on per-capita funding, or wait times, without having to personally experience their impact, lulls you into the trap of confusing complaints for hyperbole.

There is another trap we can fall into. It’s one I was in for years. That trap is the belief that Australian healthcare, ranked consistently within the top-ten in the world is, overall, brilliant. That statement is undeniably true, and yet the key word here is “overall”.

If you forget those with mental illness, Indigenous Australians, LGBTIQ community, refugees and other at-risk groups, we’re doing spectacularly. The problem is that we are a country largely composed of at-risk groups. If you aren’t marginalised in this country, chances are you once were, or are descended from someone who was, or are shoulder-to-shoulder with someone who stands at the margins. And it’s at the margins where crisis thrives. That’s where we have to look to see the crisis for what it truly is.

Dr Vyom Sharma is a GP in Melbourne and a health commentator