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'It feels like you're not a person' - Young patients facing 'terrifying' waits for mental health treatment

A group of young campaigners are making a film to highlight the fight to access treatment at Norfolk and Suffolk's mental health trust. Credit: ITV News Anglia

Mental health awareness may be at an all time high but it counts for very little if you're stuck on a waiting list for treatment.

That is the powerful message being sent to Norfolk and Suffolk's struggling mental health trust by a group of young campaigners.

They say the trust is continuing to let young patients down and with the coronavirus crisis having such an impact on mental well-being, there are fears stretched services could be put under even more pressure.

  • Click below for a full report from Rob Setchell.

The Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust has been struggling for some time. Two years ago, it was branded the worst trust in the country.

There have been a series of leadership changes. Chief Executive Jonathan Warren is the latest to promise improvements.

In its last inspection, the Care Quality Commission did recognise some improvements. The trust's rating was upped to "requires improvement" but it does remain in special measures.

Services for children and young people remain "inadequate", according to inspectors.

In February, after information from a whistleblower, an inspection took place at the St Stephens Road centre in Norwich - one of the trust's 18 specialist community services for young people.

Inspectors rated it "inadequate". Their long list of concerns included staff shortages, a "disconnect between clincial staff and managers" and serious worries over the length and accuracy of waiting lists.

Inspectors said that, in an old building, there were even problems getting on the Internet to see patient records.

Chelsea Snowling, 23, spent years fighting to access the right treatment.

Diagnosed with depression and anxiety as a teenager, she was referred to Norfolk and Suffolk's mental health trust.

"They said that I needed therapy but that the wait was a year to a year and a half. They said if you can pay for it, pay for it - which was horrible, because I couldn't."

– Chelsea Snowling
Film director Alyssa Girvan, left, and contributor Chelsea Snowling. Credit: Submitted pictures

After spending months on the waiting list, Chelsea tried to take her own life.

She is one of 10 people sharing her story as part of a new film called 'While We Wait', which highlights the issues with mental health services in Norfolk.

The film's director is Alyssa Girvan. Two years ago, she tried to take her own life.

She insists the system must change and the long waits to access treatment must stop.

Alyssa said: "If you went to your GP because you'd cut yourself and you had an infection, imagine if they said 'can you just wait six months and we'll help you out?'

"In six months they give you antibiotics - but by that time the wound has become infected and it has become a whole different problem.

"People are waiting six months, a year, sometimes two years for help and by the time they get that help it no longer addresses the issue they have because it has got worse in the mean time."

The trust insists it has a plan to 'accelerate improvements' - and inspectors did note it was reviewing and combining various waiting lists and scheduling extra clinics at weekends.

It's also commissioned website 'Kooth' to provide a free online counselling service for 11 to 25 year olds.

Al Bailey, Children and Young People Transformation Manager with NSFT, said: “We are really pleased that we are now able to offer this additional resource to help young people across Norfolk and Waveney manage their feelings during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

“As a result of the outbreak, some young people are unable to access their usual support networks, while others may not feel comfortable talking to family members. Kooth gives them the opportunity to share their feelings confidentially with others or with a qualified counsellor so that they can receive the best support to help them deal with issues or worries."

  • Diane Hull, NSFT's Chief Nurse, insists the trust has made "considerable strides".

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