Psychiatrists have clashed over the treatment of mental health disorders after a survey found that more than half of respondents said they did not use their profession as a ‘first line of defence’.
The findings are the latest in a string of criticism over the way psychiatric professionals are treated, and come as a new survey of mental illness patients found that some are reluctant to seek help.
“The way I see it, we don’t want to see more psychiatrists and we don’s not want to be seen as a threat to psychiatrists,” said one man, who did not wish to be named for fear of reprisal.
The survey of over 100 people, conducted by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, found that 47 per cent of respondents believed mental health professionals should be given greater power to decide whether to treat patients, and 39 per cent said they should be required to have a full medical background.
Despite the growing trend of mental healthcare professionals not being treated as first line of defense, only 18 per cent believed they should have the power to diagnose and treat mental illness.
Psychiatrists who did have this power were reluctant to offer support to patients, with nearly two-thirds saying they would not give their patients medication if they did have an issue.
One man, whose condition had worsened in the past six months, said he felt helpless to help people in distress, and that it was difficult to know when to call for help.
“The doctor will come in and tell you to get in touch with someone, but you know that’s not going to happen,” he said.
“They’re going to have to be a little bit more open and transparent about it.”
We have a lot of people who can’t trust anyone and are in a constant state of crisis.
“It is estimated that 1.5 million people suffer from mental illness in the UK each year.
The Royal College’s survey of more than 100 psychiatrists found that the vast majority of those surveyed felt they did as little as possible to help patients, but that they would make a referral to a mental health professional when they felt their patient was struggling.
Dr Helen Brown, a consultant psychiatrist at St Albans Hospital, told the BBC: “They have this attitude that there’s no difference between them and the GP.”
I have to tell you, they are a little more open to the idea that they can make a difference, but it’s just not in the cards.”
Dr Brown said many of the mental health professions are in need of training and guidance, and are looking to make the changes needed to address the problem.
Dr Brown also said that the profession is a ‘grey area’ in terms of how it is treated, with many doctors and social workers seeing themselves as frontline professionals.
“It is a grey area in terms what is acceptable in terms, what is not acceptable in some of these cases,” she said.
There is a growing trend in some areas of the country of doctors treating patients as ‘psychiatric assistants’, rather than psychiatrists, with some hospitals and social services in the Midlands using the term.
Dr Brown told the ABC the trend has to be stopped and the profession needs to be reformed to help tackle the problem of stigma and stigma-related mental illness among mental health care workers.
She said: “There is such a big disconnect in mental health services between the clinicians and the patients.”
If you have a person with an issue who’s really vulnerable and needs to talk to someone, there is a big gap between what you can do as a clinician and what you as a mental healthcare provider can do.
“Dr David Rutter, from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of General Practitioners, said the profession needed to change its approach to treating mental health issues.
He said: “[The survey] shows that there are problems that are systemic and that needs to get addressed and this is why it is important that we have a wider range of clinicians who are part of the community, who are well trained, who understand mental health, who can get on board with the community and who are willing to work with the patient.”
The Royal College said it was taking the survey to see how the profession was doing in addressing the problem, and to look at ways to improve its processes.
But it warned that stigma and lack of trust were still problems, and urged all professionals to act responsibly.
It’s important that those who are being treated by psychologists have the confidence and trust that they’re treating patients with the best of intentions, but also to recognise that it can be very difficult to get a handle on a person,” the spokesman said.