A WOMAN who has struggled with depression and anxiety all of her life says she is extremely frustrated with the mental health provision in the city after being left waiting to get help for over a year.

Chris, 34, says she feels she is being ‘passed from pillar to post and never getting anywhere’ after reaching out for help. She believes the situation is ‘damaging’ and in some cases could even lead to fatalities.

She said: “What I find most frustrating is how the 'mantra', when it comes to mental health, is that 'asking for help is the hardest part'. So why is it that people in my situation don’t just have to ask for help once?

"They have to ask again and again, and wait and wait and wait, until they get to someone who will listen and help?

"Why are people who are already struggling to go on expected to go through a huge rigmarole just to be told what they already know, and to be made to wait again, with no promises of real help on the horizon.”

Chris’s wait began when, in early January 2020, she contacted her GP to say she was struggling with anxiety and felt she was 'losing the will to live'.

She refused antidepressants feeling they would not resolve her issues and instead self-referred to Worcestershire Healthy Minds.

She had a forty-minute phone call in March 2020 giving a brief overview of her symptoms. A second phone call followed before, in September, she was passed to the Enhanced Primary Care team.

She said: I was immediately offered antidepressants, but refused them as I find they mask the symptoms rather than resolve the real issues. I was told to self-refer to Worcestershire Healthy Minds via an online form and did so immediately.

"I waited until late March 2020 for the phone call they had promised to come around. It was a forty minute conversation, where I simply gave my answers on the form and was asked for few details.

“Several weeks later another letter arrived, advising me that a telephone appointment had been arranged with a therapist towards the end of the summer. Unfortunately the second phone call was not much different to the first. I spoke with a very nice lady, who genuinely seemed to care and wanted to help me.

"However, we simply went through my answers on the form once again, which hadn’t changed since my initial assessment, and only scratched the surface on the deeper issues and traumas that had lead to my current and long-term mental health struggles.”

In September, Chris was told she had more significant needs and was passed to the Enhanced Primary Care team. After another seven months - a year after her original GP appointment - Chris received a letter signposting her to an online link with a series of six videos.

“We booked another session for two weeks later into September, and when that rolled around I was told that my needs were more significant than they could help with, so my case would be passed on to the Enhanced Primary Care team. I was assured this process was a positive step and that the EPC could and would offer me better support.

She said “This is where I turned to despair. I first discovered that these videos had existed on Youtube since September 2020. Which was the date of my last telephone call, yet it was seven months later when I finally received a letter from the EPC containing the video link.

“As someone who was told by a professional during this process, that I needed more “intensive” help, I’m frankly outraged to find that the help I was offered came seven months after the fact, and in the form of these videos which were essentially preaching to the choir in my case.”

Months later Chris says she is still waiting for more help.

She said: “I assume the videos are perhaps used as a tool to separate the wheat from the chaff, as another letter came around six weeks after the one containing the link, which stated if I did not email in to request a follow up review with the EPC, I would be discharged.

“Of course, having got this far I emailed right away and requested a follow up, and to date, months after requesting a review, I am still waiting for an appointment to discuss my experience and hopefully find a way for me to reach proper one to one help.

“If something doesn’t improve soon, I don’t know where I will be. Worryingly, there are people out there who won’t ask twice for help. Most, I’m sure would see the follow up letter, and either roll their eyes and forget about it, or be swallowed up by their mental health struggles and forget to reply all together.

“During this process I had repeatedly been given numbers to call in the event of a mental health crisis, but the system shouldn’t have to rely on crisis hotlines to manage people who need help with long term mental health troubles.

“I’m one of the lucky ones, in that I have managed to dig my heels in and hang on this long. My coping strategies, which have been honed over many years of struggling, are still keeping me afloat, but I genuinely fear for others in the area who are not as fortunate, and find themselves being palmed off left and right and let down completely by the so-called “enhanced” mental health support in Worcester.

“This system is not good enough, and I know the NHS is under terrible strain at the moment, and had been pre-COVID too, but to have been classified as needing enhanced support and having a history of mental health struggles, only to be given what is essentially a virtual crash course in managing negative feelings, is just beyond insufficient.”

A Herefordshire and Worcestershire Health and Care NHS Trust spokesman said: “We are sorry to hear about any experiences where people have had difficulty getting the mental health support they need.

“Demand for these services (Healthy Minds/Enhanced Primary Care Mental Health Service) has been consistently high since they were set up 5 years ago and at times waits do occur between the initial assessment and someone’s treatment starting.

"We assessed around 43,000 people last year with mental health problems. This was 11% up on the previous year. We are working continuously to ensure waits are minimised and that people can access the support they need as soon as possible. This includes helping someone access wider community support which may be more suitable for them.

“Covid-19 did have some impacts on our services during the early part of 2020 because much of our existing offer was based on face to face therapy and group work which we were not able to deliver due to the restrictions. However, we resumed face to face contact with patients where this was appropriate during the Summer of 2020 and are also using video-conferencing and telephone contact to deliver treatment.

“In line with NHS England’s Long-term Plan around an extra £14.2 million is being invested in mental health services across Herefordshire and Worcestershire in the coming year. Much of this is focused on ensuring that everybody who has a need can access mental health services in a timely fashion.

"It is important that when someone takes the brave step to seek help and support that they can access it as soon as possible. Local mental health services are open and available and we would urge anyone to contact us if they need support."

• Worcestershire Healthy Minds - 0300 013 57 27

• 24/7 Mental Health Helpline - 0808 196 9127 Free phone (24 hrs a day 365 days a year)

• www.hacw.nhs.uk