COLUMNIST: Sometimes our mental health becomes so impaired we need psychiatric help

Dr Kate Lovett Dean of the Royal College of  Psychiatrists
Dr Kate Lovett Dean of the Royal College of Psychiatrists

We all have mental health. Just as many of us strive to get five a day or make it to 10,000 steps, it’s important that we’re conscious of trying to maintain and improve our mental health day. 

Yet there are times where some of our mental health becomes so impaired that the help of psychiatrist is needed.

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The Westminster Government set out a five-year plan intended to revolutionise support for mental illness and ensure that more people receive help last year.

I’m supportive of this plan, and heartened to hear from colleagues of innovative developments cropping up across the country such as by Sheffield Health and Social Care NHS Trust to improve community services and ensure that no patients need to travel out of area to receive non-specialist mental health care. Delivering this requires the right staff, in the right numbers, including psychiatrists who support GPs and lead teams of professionals, to provide seamless care for people with severe mental illness.

But in the last four years the numbers of vacant psychiatry posts have doubled.

If we are not able to recruit the psychiatrists of the future, to stop this trend, we will never be able to provide adequate care for people with severe mental illness.

Our 13 years of medial training means we can plan with patients the best blend of medication, talking therapies and social interventions to get them better, considering the social contexts of their lives.

Awareness that psychiatry and psychiatrists are at the heart of mental health treatment is crucial, especially if when trying to develop and improve services. Otherwise it would be like trying to improve services for those suffering brain cancer but forgetting to recruit and train brain surgeons or cancer doctors. Yet 42% of the public don’t know that bipolar diagnoses require psychiatric expertise and just 6 out of ten people expect a referral to a consultant for an eating disorder, compared to 86% for cancer.

With younger generations far more willing to talk about mental health than in days gone by many young people are being inspired to look for a career helping others with their mental health. It is vital that we harness the enthusiasm of these young people and encourage them to choose psychiatry. 

For this to happen it is really important that we have a more open attitude to medical school admission for those who have studied psychology at school or university.

I’m pleased to say that Sheffield University is already playing a leading role as the first medical school in the country to formally recognise A-level psychology for their entrants. The Royal College of Psychiatrists is working to encourage more medical schools to follow Sheffield’s progressive lead.

I consider being a psychiatrist the best job in the world. It is exciting and rewarding. Every day I see the positive impact that my work as a general psychiatrist makes to peoples’ lives.

Our rewards come from listening to our patients and hearing their innermost thoughts, often knowing them better than friends and family. They come from in-depth training that allows us to develop unique expertise.

Best of all is the knowledge that despite the challenges of working on the NHS frontline we make a difference day in, day out to our patients living with severe mental illness, helping them rebuild their lives.

* Dr Kate Lovett is the Consultant Psychiatrist and Dean at The Royal College of Psychiatrists.