by Paul Stemman, Head of Policies and Campaigns
A lot of debates in Parliament don’t achieve much. People come together, say what they want to say, and then go their separate ways. But the House of Lords debate on Deaf mental health was different.
In response to a question from Lord Ponsonby, Lord Howe agreed to the setting up of a Working Group to look at Deaf mental health services. This was a very welcome move and SignHealth is pleased the minister saw it as a “sensible” step.
Services which struggle
The debate was important as it raised the subject of mental health services for Deaf people. These services often struggle because they are overlooked in wider health debates.
A lot of people do not know the services exist, let alone understand why they exist. Lords spoke about some of the current difficulties and what could be done to make improvements.
Breakthrough- a working group is set up
Why did SignHealth and Lord Ponsonby think a Working Group might help? Because, at the moment the care pathway is broken. Bits of it are there. We have the three in-patient units for people who are experiencing severe mental distress. And some parts of the country have a community service, to support Deaf people there. But, for most Deaf people there is no simple chain of services which will give them the care and support they might need.
The two biggest gaps are psychological therapies and community services. SignHealth has been employing therapists to work with Deaf people directly in BSL. But changes to the way this service is commissioned mean it is struggling to survive. The Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) who are meant to ‘buy’ therapy services are just not doing it for Deaf people.
The other big gap is community services. If someone needs more than therapy, but doesn’t need to be admitted to a hospital, then they should get support from a community services. Typically, hearing people have Community Mental Health Teams (CMHTs).
Deaf people need specialists
Because Deaf mental health is different, a CMHT on its own is not much use to a Deaf person. They will not be able to make a proper assessment or offer much support. What is needed is for the CMHT to have help from a specialist Deaf community team. The specialist Deaf community team can work with the Deaf person directly in BSL, but can also support the CMHT to support the Deaf person. This might be through advice, training, co-working, etc.
Hopes for the future
We hope the Working Group will be able to look at these two gaps in particular; decide what needs to be done, and agree on who will take action. It needs senior people who can make a decision which will produce a change in the way services are commissioned or delivered. You can rest assured SignHealth will be working hard to make sure it succeeds. We have had the talk, now we need action.
Image Credit: Houses of Parliament by RajanPhotos.