The failure of NHS mental health services: access denied

Let’s begin with the obvious (but not always said) fact that it is perfectly OK to take antidepressants. The results behind their effectiveness isn’t conclusive, but for many people antidepressants can cause some relief from their depression. According to research, antidepressants are most useful for severe cases of depression, lifting one’s mood, helping them feel more able to carry out their day-to-day tasks. It’s been concluded that they are most effective when accompanied by regular counselling.

Unfortunately, the waiting list for counselling on the NHS is absurdly long. Yet, our access to antidepressants is almost instant. In my own experience, and in what I’ve heard recently from others also suffering from depression, GPs are quick to push antidepressants as the main remedy above other methods. Why?

I’ll start with my own experience discussing my mental health with my GP in January:

So I had a very disappointing GP appointment, with a harsh and unhelpful doctor who wasn’t very empathetic to my situation. As someone who was suffering from depression related to a very specific family situation, I went to the GP for help with the situation, and for a counselling referral. She basically told me I had to make the referral myself, and there was nothing she could do to help with the situation at all. Which is fine. What I didn’t like about this doctor’s approach was the fact that whilst being very dismissive of my situation she immediately tried to prescribe me antidepressants. When I explained I would rather try counselling she went on to say I could change my mind at a later date. I knew the causes of my mood, I am comfortable with discussing my problems with counsellors – something I was told I’d have to wait around 6 weeks to do. So why is it that the NHS are happy to give us pills (without any real assessment) but if I want counselling I have to first speak to my GP, refer myself, then wait for an assessment (a week), only to wait again for over a month for my first counselling session?

I’m not ashamed to take antidepressants, I just don’t want to. I know myself, my mind, and what’s worked in the past, to know that I would benefit from counselling.

To top it all off, a few weeks later I received a lovely invite in the post to join an experiment on antidepressants at UCL. The letter stated that I had been noted down by my GP as someone who “experiences low moods but has chosen not to take antidepressants”, it seems highly unethical to me that they would look for such people to test on. The study was a comparison between the effectiveness of antidepressants and placebos. Why put depressed people up to this? For the advancement of science? Maybe – but why not contact people who do want to take antidepressants, instead of coaxing those who don’t into it? I was shocked to get this letter, to say the least.

I can’t say this enough – there’s no shame in taking antidepressants. I’m just not down for the possible side effects, which are extensive. I just think the mental health services in the UK are letting us down entirely. Yes it might be quicker and easier for us to be prescribed pills, but what about what’s best for the patient? Have doctors forgotten that our (mental) health should be their main priority? Or are they too busy trying to keep to the clock to treat us like human beings instead of numbers on a computer screen?


I first wrote this post in February. After being told I’d have to wait up to 6 weeks for my first counselling session I was let down again; I waited two months without being contacted, emailed the NHS and was told the waiting list was very long. Four months later when I had lost hope on ever being seen by a professional I finally got a phone call offering me sessions during the week. In this space of time I have secured a job (by some miracle) so can’t make these daytime sessions. When asking for an evening appointment I was told I would have to wait even longer. It’s now July and I am still waiting.  The vast difference between the availability of these two coping methods still shocks me.



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