Belfast Telegraph

Call for expansion of mental health counselling at GPs in Northern Ireland

Christine Rocks
Christine Rocks
Her late daughter Samantha
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

A mum who lost her daughter to suicide 12 years ago is taking her campaign to tackle mental illness into the community.

Christine Rocks wants greater support for GPs, which is usually the first port of call for people suffering in what she calls a "spiralling mental health crisis".

Her charity SAM88 will host an event tonight.

She said: "Even when your practice has a counsellor we know that people wait for up to seven months to be seen.

"We know that in 2017, 65 people in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust died by suicide.

"The awful reality is that some people will be dead before they get the help they need.

"The Health and Social Care Board needs to at least double the amount of money it is putting into GP practice-based counselling, and do it now."

Christine launched SAM88 in memory of her daughter Samantha (18) and is seeking support at a public meeting in Magherafelt.

"Access to counselling through your GP practice is a vital treatment option for people with mental health problems," she said.

"But getting to see a counsellor is a postcode lottery, it totally depends on where you live."

For over 90% of people experiencing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression, their GP is the first port of call, with approximately one in three GP appointments being for mental ill health.

For many who attend their GP with mental health problems, counselling offers an effective, low-cost form of treatment.

But new research that SAM88 has been a part of through the #123GP Campaign has highlighted the difficulties people experience in trying to access counselling through their GP practice.

"Only two-thirds of GP practices provide access to counselling in their practice and the percentage has dropped in the past year," Christine said.

"A quarter of patients wait four months or more for an initial appointment with a counsellor in their practice and official figures show that waiting times for access to counselling via the Primary Care Talking Therapy Hubs are even longer.

"When they are finally seen, patients are limited to an average of six sessions, which they feel is inadequate to help improve their mental health."

Christine's campaign is backed by leading medical experts.

Bobby Carlin, a counsellor in the Ballymena area, said having a counselling service based in the GP practice makes it accessible to people.

"Lots of clients would never have thought about counselling as an option if it wasn't offered by their GP," he said.

"This is a vital service which should be expanded."

For information contact Christine Rocks on 07845600231 or on cpatricia1109@gmail.com

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