New holistic approach needed to tackle mental health crisis, says leading professor

The Mental Health Social Care Service conference at the Holiday Inn Norwich North. Speaker Peter Ber

The Mental Health Social Care Service conference at the Holiday Inn Norwich North. Speaker Peter Beresford, professor of social policy, Brunel University, London. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Experts, service users and charities gathered to hear an alternative vision for mental health services in Norfolk at their second conference in Norwich. DOMINIC GILBERT heard lead speaker Peter Beresford condemn the existing system.

The Mental Health Social Care Service conference at the Holiday Inn Norwich North. The Beat and Norf

The Mental Health Social Care Service conference at the Holiday Inn Norwich North. The Beat and Norfolk Community Eating Disorder Service workshop at the conference. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Pressures on local mental health and social care services are no secret with the Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust ailing in special measures and Norfolk County Council reported for failing to adhere to the Care Act.

Citing the effects of austerity budgets, Peter Beresford, professor of social policy at Brunel University, outlined to Norfolk's Second Mental Health and Social Care conference why the sector needs to be drawn away from a medical model and become socially oriented.

'We know the local situation has its own difficulties and is clearly severe,' he said. 'In the midst of all this people are still facing crisis and social care workers are trying to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

'We have a mental health system that has become more shaped by narrow approaches to psychology, from a brief consultation to the consequent over-prescription of pharmaceuticals.'


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Last week Shaping our Lives, a national network of service users and disabled people, published a new user led study: From Mental Illness to a Social Model of Madness and Distress. 'It is a disturbing picture that emerges,' added Prof Beresford. 'They talk about a system inherently damaging and destructive. Service users tell us the very model at work, even if not in financial crisis, has more severe fundamental flaws and problems.

'Emphasis on drug treatments will be stigmatising and damaging, and significantly fails to address the problem.

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'Most service users feel more social approaches to mental health are the most helpful.'

Describing a new model in Canada which aims to go beyond medical solutions, Prof Beresford said: 'We must bring back a more holistic approach. We need to move from a narrow medicalised view and work towards a participatory welfare state. The way to achieve this is to put social policy ahead of economic policy. The fact social workers are consistently saying they do not have the resources to do their jobs is damaging to the relationship with the service user, and there is a bankruptcy in thinking you can keep calling on carers and they will keep on doing it. 'It is not about more money for mental health, it is about where it goes. I would rather see it go to user organisations than big charities so close to government they find it difficult to say what's necessary.'

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