Published: 00:01, 10 October 2016
Kent’s mental health services, like many others, have faced funding cuts in recent years.
Trusts and charities have issued pleas for more money as patients find themselves forced to leave the county for treatment.
According to the Samaritans, at least one in four people experience mental health problems and suicide is the single biggest killer of men under 45.
These statics make a strong argument that mental health support services are more important than ever.
We spoke exclusively to Angus Gartshore, the director of community mental health services for the Kent and Medway NHS Partnership Trust (KMPT), to find out the state of our services – what’s good, what’s bad and what’s changing.
Mr Gartshore, a trained psychiatric nurse, has been in mental health services for 25 years.
"There are two main problems in mental health services at the moment," he said.
"Firstly, there’s a massive shortage of nurses and doctors so like everyone else, we are fighting for very scarce resources.
"When the recession hit in 2008, they stopped a number of the training courses, so now we’re in a position where we’ve got less doctors and nurses so we’re all fighting in the country for the same small pool of staff and clinical expertise.
"There’s also an increasing demand on mental health services. With celebrities and people in parliament talking about mental health it increases awareness and people are coming to look for help.
"It’s a good thing but actually we don’t really have the resources to deal with the increased demand."
KMPT provides secondary care to people suffering with mental health problems, including in-patient facilities, crisis and home treatment teams and community mental health teams.
The first point of contact for someone suffering would be a primary care provider – usually their GP.
Previously a person would need to be referred to KMPT by their doctor.
But recent changes mean people can now fast-track the help they need by calling a 24-hour crisis line.
This phone number offers self-referral and connects people to the relevant support service.
Mr Gartshore added: "What we need to do is work together, because if you’re a patient, the last thing you need to be thinking about is which way to turn.
"But this World Mental Health day, I mainly want to promote awareness, tolerance and understanding. I think it is absolutely a new era for mental health."
Today (Monday) is World Mental Health day and to mark it, Kent will hold it’s first-ever mental health festival.
The free event, organised by a number of mentalh health chairties, takes place at the Leas Cliff Hall tomorrow (Tuesday) from 11am to 4pm
Since its launch in April, Live Well Kent has helped nearly 3,000 people by connecting them to a network of charities and community organisations.
Support is offered for a huge range of issues, including mental health, wellbeing, keeping active and healthy, meeting people, training and work, money management, housing support and improving relationships with family and friends.
Christian, who has bipolar disorder and has battled with depression, said Live Well Kent helped him turn his life around.
He said: "I learned to believe in myself again, gain skills and take a different direction.
"Live Well Kent and its health providers have taught me that if I accept who I am and recognise my skills and abilities there is no end to what I can achieve."
Live Well Kent is led by charities Porchlight and Shaw Trust on behalf of Kent County Council (KCC) and the NHS.
Chris Coffey, from Live Well Kent, said: “We’re really pleased that the service has already helped so many people.
“From the numbers of people contacting us, we know that there must be more people out there who need our help, so if you’re struggling with mental ill health or know somebody who is, please get in touch.”
Kent Police have been heralded as the first force in the country to transfer emergency calls about a mental health issue to a specialist.
Kent Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Matthew Scott, said mental health is the ‘golden thread’ of his policing plan.
Mr Scott said: “Mental health is not only an issue I care deeply about, but also one that has become much more important within the police and criminal justice system.
“It is estimated that a third of police time is now spent dealing with people who have a mental health issue and it is in everyone’s interests to ensure there is an effective response."
Kent County Council (KCC) launched their own campaign to raise awareness of the number of male suicides in the county and encourage men to talk.
Release the Pressure started in March and a KCC spokesperson said their helpline now receives nearly 500 callers a month.
She said: “We are now getting a 56% increase in male callers on the same period last year.
"The campaign urges people to seek help and support from the trained and experienced Mental Health Matters staff on the freephone number.
For more information about the campaign or to hear from people who turned their lives around after suicide, click here.
For help and support contact KMPT's new 24-hour hotline on 0300 222 0123, or for the hearing impaired use 0786 002 2819.
Alternatively contact NHS Choices on 0800 107 0160, or email email@example.com.
Contact Mental Health Matters helpline on 0800 107 0160 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or email email@example.com.