Mental health patients feel stigma asking for time off work for therapy

People with mental health problems feel stigmatised in asking their employers for time off work to attend therapy appointments, according to medical professionals.

Yet they would happily ask their boss for the time off if they were suffering a physical ailment such as a broken leg or arm, they said.

Evidence suggests more people are suffering poor mental health, although some of the rise is due to people being more willing to say they have a problem.

Economic uncertainty, social media, the influence of the media and rising expectations of life have all been suggested as possible causes of the rise.

There is also a debate around whether doctors prescribe anti-depressant medication too quickly and should look for alternatives.

During an event at the Cheltenham Science Festival a panel of medical experts discussed the stigma surrounding anti-depressants and insisted they work.

Professor Ann John, professor of public mental health at Swansea University, said medication should be used in combination with other treatments, such as therapy.

“One of the problems with these sort of psychological therapies or talking therapies which doesn’t often get talked about is, possibly because of the stigma, lots of people find it difficult to make regular in-the-day appointments to attend,” she said.

“Some of the people I work with on projects are being asked to attend weekly regular appointments, they are in the sorts of jobs where they are not able to do that in the day without losing their pay.

“So I think we can also underestimate that there are other barriers for people accessing that type of care.

“That feeds into how people can attend appointments for physical things much more easily, its stigma.”

GP Clare Gerada agreed, although said she thought it was becoming easier, many of her patients felt ashamed of taking anti-depressants.

“I think for anyone to say I need a regular appointment on a Monday afternoon to attend therapy is very difficult to admit to an employer,” she said.

“I always have the fear that this issue about anti-depressants is actually caught up in the stigma, that there is a certain genre that still believe that depression is not a real illness. Therefore not being a real illness it should not be treated with real medicine.”

Dr Gerada, a former chairman of the Council of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said that mental health services were often the poor relation for funding in the NHS.

“It’s always cancer and cancer is king and if you look at the newspapers it is ‘New drug x saves lives’. It doesn’t save lives, it just prevents premature death,” she said.

“Saying that, I think there is enough momentum now that mental health will get greater funding and rightly so.”

She said that 50% of her caseload as a GP was mental health related and added: “I would really hope that the next decade is not about the prolongation of life.

“We are fed this belief that we are not going to die and if only the doctors did better we wouldn’t die.

“I am hoping in the next decade we are going to change that and look at our quality of life and not our quantity of life.

“Those that have to care for us are struggling because we are taught to demand more and more.”

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