Mental health measure can lead the way to much better treatment

THE best chance mental health service users have of achieving recovery from serious mental illness is if they take control of their care and treatment.

Unfortunately, when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder five years ago I was not encouraged to do this.

When I left hospital I was not informed about my rights as a service user and although I received a care plan, I wasn’t told how it would help me.

I thought my plan was just a piece of bureaucracy. It was filled in on my behalf by a social worker and I was asked to sign it.

Fortunately, things have changed a lot since then. In June, as part of the historic Mental Health (Wales) Measure, service users in Wales finally won the legal right to a holistic, comprehensive care and treatment plan. Ensuring users get the most of these plans is a subject I’m very passionate about.

To help users get the most out of their plans, a guide produced by Hafal in collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation and Bipolar UK was launched by Health and Social Services Minister Lesley Griffiths in June.

The information in the guide – “Care and Treatment Planning: A step-by-step guide for secondary mental health service users” – is based on the experiences of more than 1,500 people with serious mental illness and their families and carers, people who have found that the best chance of achieving recovery from serious mental illness is if they take control of their own recovery, take all areas of life into consideration in planning recovery and act on a step-by-step plan towards recovery.

The guide is proving to be extremely useful to mental health service users and professionals. Since it was published 10,000 copies have been distributed to clients and professionals across Wales.

On reflection, I wish I had received the guide and the new care and treatment plans five years ago.

Back then, nobody explained to me how to plan my recovery, how to take things forward or to be ambitious in my goals.

It was simply a case of: “You have to take this medication for the rest of your life.”

I didn’t want that so I stopped taking medication with my doctor’s agreement and I’m doing really well.

In my experience it felt as though I was pushing my recovery forward but services were trying to dissuade me from doing so. I have learned that as well as having an holistic care and treatment plan it is essential for service users to have a good care coordinator who will encourage them to be proactive and ambitious on their journey towards recovery.

Now we’ve got the measure and the new plans the big question is whether the implementation gap – that’s the gap between the excellent mental health legislation we have in Wales and patchy service delivery – can be closed.

Unfortunately, mental health service provision in Wales remains patchy.

Hospital services are often delivered in poor environments where there is insufficient engagement with patients to help them recover.

Community-based service provision is inconsistent across the regions too, which can leave people isolated. We need services to become more proactive and for service providers to use more than medication to prevent people with serious mental illness going into hospital.

Service providers need to offer holistic provision, to help clients mend their lives and become socially active in areas such as training, education and employment.

There’s a lot to be done. But the introduction of the new care and treatment plans and the guide makes me feel that we’re on the right track.

To download the Hafal report, visit