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A lift for those who are down

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Mark Easton | 16:25 UK time, Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Since almost everyone is affected directly or indirectly by the painful consequences of clinical depression and anxiety, I thought I would post some good news.

The new psychological therapies which are being rolled out in England appear to be having a remarkable impact.

Look at the 'before and after' table below.

The proportion of patients exhibiting severe depression is halved. The moderate categories have been reduced by three-quarters. The proportion of patients with no depression or anxiety has increased ten-fold.

And this impressive result has been achieved, for the most part, using the existing stock of therapists. Some of the eleven "pathfinder" sites which provided the data believe that recruiting and training new staff will bring even better results. You can see the full report here:

Before and after tableNo-one pretends that talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are a panacea, but for millions of people who suffer with depression and stress, they do offer a potential route to recovery. If it was in pill form, people would have no hesitation in saying it was, for many, a cure.

What CBT and other talking therapies do is teach people how to eradicate irrational negative thoughts - patients effectively learn how to 're-plumb' their own brains so they can escape their spiral of anxiety or depression.

Yesterday, at an NHS conference on the therapy programme, I met Antony - a young man from Stoke who had been to hell and back. Work problems had led to a breakdown which his GP knew could not be fixed with pills.

Fortunately, one of the new psychological therapy programmes was operating in his area and he was able to get access to the kind of help which has been, and still is, missing in much of the country.

In an emotional address to the health workers gearing up for the expansion of such services, Antony revealed how CBT had transformed his life in a matter of weeks.

From being unable to work or even leave his house, he now has the confidence to make a speech to a few hundred mental health professionals in a London hotel. Describing his life before therapy he told them: "I was so bad I thought daytime television was good".

The government has agreed to spend increasing sums on this kind of help: by 2010 the budget will be more than £170 million. But even this will only provide services to about half the population in England and if we are not careful we could end up with a 'post-code lottery' in terms of provision.

I understand the Department of Health may be about to announce which areas will get the next wave of psychological support services. Ministers have been persuaded that every penny spent will save them money in Incapacity Benefit and health care costs.

Coincidentally, the NHS today published some new statistics on mental health services in England.

The data reveals how increasing numbers were accessing help even before the push to expand the use of psychological therapies.

As you may know, I like maps and today's release includes one which shows the use of mental health services in England.

Number of patients mapIt is hard to know quite what to make of it to be honest. Does increased levels of use imply worse mental health or better services? Certainly, it appears that it is in urban areas that one sees the highest proportions accessing such help. But then, for reasons that elude me, Leeds / Bradford appears to have a very low number of patients getting care.

I would, as ever, be grateful for your thoughts.

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