'Listen to us' service users tell Essex mental health bosses at Secret Nuclear Bunker

Today, a group of mental health service users from across Essex came face-to-face with the county’s top decision-makers to tell them about their experiences and help improve services.

In the first meeting of its kind, over 30 commissioners and providers of mental health services came together to listen and learn from the lived experience of Essex mental health service users and carers.

According to the people who use services, the most important aspect of good care is seeing the same health professionals over a period of time. This helps build up a trusting and knowledgeable relationship and avoids the need to retell painful stories again and again.

Many services were highlighted for not communicating well enough with service users or between departments, and for example, by getting people’s names and personal histories wrong.

People also said that health professionals could listen more to patients and that they should recognise and respond to people’s own knowledge of their individual mental health and support needs.

The meeting - held in the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker - was the culmination of the 555 Mental Health Project, created and run in partnership by Healthwatch Essex and ecdp.

Andy Woodcock, from Brentwood, who has struggled with anxiety and depression, told decision-makers, 'Please take the time to consult with people who have lived experience of mental ill health. Listen to their complex needs before deciding which and what services to commission.'

Mum of two from Colchester, Kate Law, who was diagnosed with postnatal depression (PND) with her first child, said, 'There needs to be more support and thought about the families of those who have PND, including the dads.'

'Many people affected by PND and pre-natal depression could be helped earlier by having their expectations of childbirth managed more effectively, and by seeing the same health professional throughout pregnancy and birth. This would ensure they get continuous care by those who understand PND and know which services are available to those at risk.'

The 555 Mental Health Project was launched in response to feedback from service users who took part in a Healthwatch Essex film about mental health earlier this year. Service users felt that people at the top of the NHS and social care – people who commission and provide the service – never spoke to service users and probably never met together, which was why services never seemed truly joined up.

The Essex-wide project ran throughout the summer. The idea was to collect a broad selection of experiences – ranging from people who may only have used mental health services once to be referred for counselling, to those who regularly receive care in the community, or those who have experienced care as a mental health inpatient in a hospital. There was also one group which focused exclusively on people’s experiences of PND. The focus groups were held in Braintree, Rayleigh, Stansted, Clacton and Brentwood.

The 555 Mental Health Report will be launched to the public on Friday 10 October - World Mental Health Day - at the 'Walk the Extra Mile' event in Chelmsford’s Central Park.

Dr Tom Nutt, Chief Executive Officer, Healthwatch Essex, said, 'At a time of increasing demand and financial cut-backs, services are under pressure. Listening to the people who use the service is part of the solution and can help shape and improve services for future generations.'

Mike Adams, Chief Executive Officer, ecdp, said, 'We must continue to work in partnership with a wide range of organisations to drive change and continuous improvement. This is what participants of the 555 Project – who all have first-hand experience of mental health services in Essex - have told us they want to see.'

Visit the 555 Project web page

News update