New film by Newcastle University hopes to change way mental health is treated

Mental health has hit the headlines recently after the co-pilot of the doomed Germanwings plane was found to be suffering with depression

Dr. Darren Flynn, from Newcastle University
Dr. Darren Flynn, from Newcastle University

It's time to deal with one of the last taboos in our society - that’s the message from one mental health expert as a new film is launched.

Darren Flynn, practitioner psychologist at Newcastle University’s Institute of Health and Society, has been working on a film about Shared Decision Making (SDM) in mental health care.

He hopes the new film - the first of its kind - can promote SDM among doctors and patients with mental health problems to improve the quality of the care they receive.

The 41-year-old said: “There are three key things I hope come from the film. I hope it raises awareness of shared decision making and tells people what it is. The majority of people in the street who are all potential service users, and many current users of mental health services and clinicians do not know what it is.

“The second thing is it emphasises the benefits of actually engaging with shared decision making.

“Also, the film helps show how it can be done. At the moment, it’s not part of traditional medical practice to say ‘let’s do shared decision making’.”

At the recent leaders debate, it was only the much-maligned Nick Clegg who touched on the issue of mental health.

But, the Liberal Democrat leader’s willingness to talk about what could potentially be a political hot potato is vindicated when you look at the numbers involved.

What originally looked like a bold move becomes a cold-blooded calculation on Clegg’s behalf.

Mental health problems cost the country an estimated £100 billion each year.

• Approximately 23% of the total impact of ill health in the UK is due to mental health problems, but mental health services receive just 13% of the NHS budget.

• One in four people will experience a mental health problem in their lifetime.

• Mental ill-health accounts for 50% of all disability in people of working age, half of people on benefits and half of all days taken off sick.

• Mental health problems such as depression reduce life expectancy as much as smoking, yet only a quarter of all people with mental health problems are in receipt of treatment, compared with almost all people with physical conditions.

If Clegg could position his party as the most responsible on mental health, a flurry of votes could follow.

But for that to happen, the stigma surrounding the issue would need to be defeated, and that’s one of the film’s main aims.

The film was created in partnership with service users of mental health charity, Moving Forward Newcastle, and features former heavyweight boxer Frank Bruno MBE, who has experience of mental health problems.

It is designed to raise awareness in the public and mental health professionals about the value of SDM for helping people recover from mental health problems.

The film can also be used as a teaching and training aid for medical, health and social care professionals wanting to understand more about SDM.

It also serves to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health, which is still a major barrier to people seeking help sooner rather than later.

SDM, in which doctors and patients work together to identify the best choice of treatment for an individual patient, is supported by the Government’s commitment to ‘no decision about me without me’ becoming the norm in the NHS.

While doctors provide expert knowledge on the available treatment options and their benefits and potential risks, patients consider their own values, beliefs, personal circumstances and attitudes towards the pros and cons of the treatment options available.

The film’s release is timed perfectly.

Last month’s Germanwings tragedy, in which 149 people lost their lives, brought the issue of mental illness and specifically depression to the top of the agenda.

It later emerged that killer Lubitz suffered from severe depression and had been deemed unfit for work by two doctors, but failed to tell his employers.

In the media frenzy following the disaster, news outlets speculated on the reasons co-pilot Andreas Lubitz could have had for ploughing the aircraft into the French Alps.

Tabloid newspaper the Sun ran the incendiary headline ‘Madman in the Cockpit’, sparking fury from mental health campaigners.

In a joint letter to the media, Sue Baker of Time to Change, Paul Farmer of Mind and Mark Winstanley from Rethink Mental Illness all urged more responsible media reporting.

They said: “The terrible loss of life in the Germanwings plane crash is tragic, and we send our deepest sympathies to the families. Whilst the full facts are still emerging, there has been widespread media reporting speculating about the link with the pilot’s history of depression, which has been overly simplistic.

“Clearly assessment of all pilots’ physical and mental health is entirely appropriate - but assumptions about risk shouldn’t be made across the board for people with depression, or any other illness. There will be pilots with experience of depression who have flown safely for decades and assessments should be made on a case by case basis.

“Today’s headlines risk adding to the stigma surrounding mental health problems, which millions of people experience each year, and we would encourage the media to report this issue responsibly.”

Boxing legend and mental health campaigner, Frank Bruno MBE, has experience of mental health problems and was diagnosed with bi-polar depression in 2003. He agreed to contribute to the film with an interview about his experiences.

He said: “Mental health problems knock your confidence and it is important to keep fighting.

“It is good people have a choice and the confidence in having a say in what happens to you. You are the one who has to take the medication or go to a therapist – not the doctor.”

Mental health problems such as depression reduce life expectancy as much as smoking, yet only a quarter of all people with mental health problems are in receipt of treatment, compared with almost all people with physical conditions.

Dr Dave Tomson, a practising GP and expert on SDM who appears in the film, said: “There is great potential for improving the sharing of decisions about treatment and management in the field of mental health. After all there is no branch of health care that is crying out for collaborative working between patient and clinician more than mental health care.”

Newcastle University’s new film uses a fictional character called John who is experiencing symptoms of depression and receives support from a close friend as well as his GP to make an informed decision about the best treatment option for him.

The story was developed by service users of Moving Forward Newcastle, many of whom appear in the film as actors. It also features interviews with a health psychologist, a GP and a clinical lead of Newcastle Talking Therapies discussing the value of SDM in mental health care.

Busola Afolabi, a Moving Forward Newcastle service user, said: “When I first started the shared decision making project I found it hard to believe that sharing information wasn’t already standard practice.

“Since being involved in the film my attitudes towards my mental health has changed. I now understand that I have a responsibility and duty of care towards making myself better, as well as understanding my options. I hope our experiences will change the attitudes of others.”

The film is free to view or download at http://sdmdepression.ncl.ac.uk. The website also includes further information about SDM, details of the production team (and how they made the film) and an interview with Frank Bruno about his experiences of mental health problems and his views on SDM.

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