The perils of ignoring physical health of people with mental ill health

This story first appeared here on Liberal Democrat Voice.

I feel a bit sad this morning.

The reason for that is this story on the BBC which outlines how the physical health of people with mental ill health can be ignored as GPs assume that the reason for all their symptoms is related to their mental state. In a study of medical records over a five year period, researchers found that just a fifth of emergency admissions to hospital among patients with mental ill health were for their mental state.

In the final year, for every 1,000 people with mental health problems there were 628 emergency admissions, compared with 129 among those without – five times the rate.

Visits to A&E units were also three times higher, with more than 1,300 attendances for every 1,000 patients with mental health problems.

The researchers said many of these could have been prevented with better care.

Report author Holly Dorning said: “It is striking that people with mental ill health use so much more emergency care than those without and that so much of this isn’t directly related to their mental health needs.

“This raises serious questions about how well their other health concerns are being managed.

“It is clear that if we continue to treat mental health in isolation, we will miss essential care needs for these patients.”

This is very real to me. We have to go back almost three decades to see why. At that point, my mother-in-law started to experience very distressing symptoms. For a long time, she had real problems keeping food down and her weight was dropping like a stone. She went to her GP multiple times and was basically told that it was all to do with her long-standing problems with anxiety and to go away. After almost a year of this, she was admitted to hospital as an emergency as she was so weak and dehydrated. It didn’t take them too long to discover that she had a massive malignant tumour in her stomach and at that point said she had about six weeks to live. In fact, she lived for fourteen weeks from that point – just long enough to sign the publishing contract for her only book, but not long enough to see it published.

But that was thirty years ago, I hear you say. Well, actually, that sort of attitude prevails. Only the other week, I heard that someone’s psychiatric consultant had asked for blood tests to rule out an underlying physical cause of  their symptoms. The GP refused to do it, saying that it was obvious that the symptoms were mental health related. As it happened, they got the tests in the end and all was well, but this experience underlines how such unhelpful attitudes still exist amongst health professionals. Time to change, I think. I hope Norman Lamb will comment on this research.


About caronlindsay

Scottish Lib Dem internationalist, mum, LGBT+ ally, Doctor Who, Strictly, F1 and trashy tv addict and blogger. Servant to two spaniels. She/her.
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