Right support at the right time

By Will Haydock

World Mental Health Day took place on Wednesday. With this in mind, it is a good time to remind ourselves of how much work we still need to do to ensure that everyone who needs help can access the right support at the right time.

In Dorset, we’ve been working particularly hard to support a group who face particular challenges in accessing help: people who have mental health needs but are also using substances – whether alcohol or other drugs. It’s widely recognised that services struggle to support these people, and last year Public Health England published guidance designed to help commissioners and providers of services with this issue.

The guidance set the scene by noting that mental health problems are experienced by the majority of drug (70%) and alcohol (86%) of alcohol users in community substance misuse treatment. Death by suicide is also common, with a history of alcohol or drug use being recorded in 54% of all suicides in people experiencing mental health problems. And other evidence tells us that people with co-occurring conditions have a heightened risk of other health problems and early death.

One of the challenges noted in the document is that there are a whole range of organisations who might fund or provide care for people with these shared issues, and they don’t always talk to each other as often or as clearly as they might.

Therefore Public Health Dorset have come together with the local Clinical Commissioning Group and the providers of a range of services – drug and alcohol treatment services, community mental health teams, homeless health outreach teams, custody mental health liaison and diversion services – to think though how we can work better together.

The first step we’re taking is to hold joint ‘away days’ for staff so they can meet each other and discuss real world situations, thinking about how they could provide better, more integrated care. We held our first day last week, and the next one is scheduled for Friday 19 October.

We hope that by improving communication and refreshing our policies and pathways for treatment, we can make the two key principles set out by Public Health England a reality:

1. Everyone’s job. Commissioners and providers of mental health and alcohol and drug use services have a joint responsibility to meet the needs of individuals with co-occurring conditions by working together to reach shared solutions.
2. No wrong door. Providers in alcohol and drug, mental health and other services have an open door policy for individuals with co-occurring conditions, and make every contact count. Treatment for any of the co-occurring conditions is available through every contact point.

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