News round-up (15 March 2024)

man looking at online news headlines
14th March 2024 about a 6 minute read

Students now entering university are still experiencing the effects of the pandemic – and universities should do more to support them, a mental health expert has said. Yet despite the increase in awareness of mental health problems, a survey has found that more than half of people believe there is still shame associated with having a mental illness. There is also concerning news from a BBC investigation, which heard allegations that a firm providing mental health services to employers was handling calls to its helpline inappropriately.

University students need more mental health support, expert says

Universities should do more to protect the mental health of students who were affected by the Covid pandemic, an expert has said.

Mark Balaam, who created Inspire, a safeguarding app used by students to improve their wellbeing, was marking University Mental Health Day on Thursday.

He said that students now at university had suffered from disruption to their schooling, isolation from peers and uncertainty about their educational progress during the pandemic.

Balaam said: “With the pandemic ‘officially’ ending almost a year ago, and rules and restrictions relaxing much more prior to that, the issues affecting mental health show no signs of abating in the young.”

He added: “With mental health services failing in schools then, the impact is going to be felt in universities. This is traditionally when young people discover their first steps of independence, living away from home and taking on a host of domestic chores. This can be a significant culture shock, and if they’re already mentally unprepared, then universities will be the ones to pick up the pieces when mental health challenges arise.”

Half of adults believe there is shame associated with mental health conditions

Over half of people in the UK (51%) believe there is shame associated with mental health conditions, a survey has found, while 12% think that individuals living with mental illness should be ashamed of their mental health problem.

The study of 2,000 adults, conducted on behalf of mental health charity Mind, found that about one in five people believe that “sociopath” (22%), “totally OCD” (22%), and “a bit mental” (20%) are acceptable everyday terms.

Two thirds (66%) of respondents, however, said that the public should be more considerate in the way we talk about mental health to avoid making people feel upset or ashamed.

The survey results coincide with the launch by the UK Anti-Stigma Alliance (a partnership between Mind, Time to Change Wales, See Me Scotland and Inspire ) of a campaign called If It’s Okay campaign. The aim of the campaign is to challenge shame and discrimination for those living with a mental health diagnosis.

Workplace mental health provider to be investigated

The mental health services provider Health Assured is to be investigated by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

The BBC Radio 4 programme File on 4 heard allegations that calls from vulnerable people to Health Assured were not always handled properly.

One caller told the programme he was advised “to go on a date” with his wife after he said he was having suicidal thoughts.

Employee Assistance Programmes – or EAPs – are intended to help employees deal with personal problems that might impact their wellbeing and performance at work. Staff can phone a helpline, explain their problem and then, if appropriate, be referred to a structured counselling service. A counsellor who worked for Health Assured told the BBC that counsellors were set a target of putting no more than 20% of callers forward for structured counselling, however. Counsellors were also told to keep each call below 19 minutes, the BBC investigation found.

Anxiety drug pregabalin linked to rising number of deaths

There has been a significant rise in deaths linked to pregabalin, a commonly-prescribed anxiety drug.

In 2018 there were 187 deaths linked to pregabalin in England and Wales, which rose to 441, more than double, in 2022.

The rise in the number of deaths partly coincides with an increase in the number of people prescribed the drug. In the UK, there were 8.4 million prescriptions for pregabalin in 2022, up from 5.5 million in 2016.

An analysis of pregabalin deaths between 2004-2020 showed that in more than 90% of deaths, the presence of other opioids, including methadone or morphine, was detected. However, in only a quarter of cases were these opioids actually prescribed to the person. This suggests that people were probably sourcing these drugs illegally rather than through their GP.

Scottish police attend 300 mental health-related incidents a day

Police officers in Scotland are attending roughly 300 incidents each day relating to mental health, figures show.

In the vast majority of incidents, no crime has been committed. Police Scotland is examining how to reduce the number of hours spent dealing with mental health calls. The force says that if they could free up some of that time by providing more appropriate help for people in crisis, it would be equivalent to recruiting 500 extra officers.

It is looking at adopting nationally a model provided by The Neuk in Perth, a mental health support centre that can act as the first point of contact in an emergency.

The Scottish Police Federation, which represents police officers, said that up to 50% of police officers’ time is taken up with responding to mental health calls.

Mental health practitioners to be introduced at Black Country GP surgeries

Primary care practices in the Black Country are to employ mental health practitioners to act as the first point of contact for adults with mild-to-moderate mental health problems.

The aim is to reduce patients’ need to see a GP and make sure they receive timely care to suit their needs.

The initiative is being funded by Black Country Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and participating GPs as part of the Community Mental Health Transformation Programme. The aim of the programme is to make it easier for adults with severe mental illness to access care and support close to home regardless of their diagnosis.

The new way of working will link community and specialist mental health services, local authorities and volunteer groups across the Black Country to signpost people to support available in their local community.