An NHS counsellor lets out a deep sigh as she puts the phone down. Her latest caller has revealed a further bout of self-harming. She fans her face to cool down after another tough counselling session on the frontline of Britain’s mental health crisis.
This cramped call centre in an industrial park in west Oxford is one of dozens of locations where the NHS is finally starting to grapple on a mass scale with illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
The despair caused by a largely hidden national problem spills from the phone lines daily, and this team of 30 counsellors gets frequent reports of suicidal feelings. Patients include everyone from stressed Oxford dons and high-flying students to landscape gardeners and harassed mothers. Problems range from “social anxiety, behavioural avoidance, phobia of toilet, wine”.
This is no fringe issue in the health of the nation. The NHS believes people with mental health problems die 15 to 20 years earlier than the average, but the system is struggling to cope. Lord Layard, a government adviser on mental health, identified mental health problems as “the biggest causes of misery in Britain today”, with an estimated 6 million people affected.
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