Access to mental health services a postcode 'lottery'

Article date: 24 February 2004

Stressed-out adults are finding it hard to get the help theyneed, according to a new report.

Nearly 60% of those questioned in the study think the NHS coulddo more to tackle mild to moderate mental health problems.

And new research commissioned as part of the Healthy Minds studyfrom Norwich Union Healthcare reveals that there is a‘postcode lottery’ when it comes to mental healthprovision across the country.

According to the research, the availability of specialist mentalhealth services on the NHS – such as psychotherapy andcounselling – is determined by where you live. And in someparts of the country such services are not available at all. Whilein others the length of time patients wait for treatment can varysubstantially with the average waiting time of five months for apsychotherapist and over eight weeks for a counsellor.

The national survey of services was commissioned by NorwichUnion Healthcare as it launches a national initiative to helppeople get the best support for mental health conditions. It hascreated an online information guide – Services for a HealthyMind – as part of its

The Healthy Mind study also reveals that two thirds of peoplequestioned think that counselling or psychological services shouldbe provided within two weeks of referral, and 86% say they’dworry about their condition worsening if they had to wait a longtime to see a specialist.

Jim Thomson, chief executive of leading UK charity DepressionAlliance, says: "Long waiting times can be incredibly discouragingfor people who are at the end of their tether and who are facing afive month wait before they can even begin to address theirproblems."

But, he adds: "Having said that, there have been improvements inprovision in some areas over the last few years and it’s alsoimportant that people are able to take responsibility for theirmental health issues – whether it’s by educatingthemselves about the services available or, when appropriate,pushing for improved access to these services in their area."

Despite the fact that one in four adults in the UK suffers frommental distress, the survey also reveals the stigma of mentalhealth problems is preventing people from getting help. A third ofthose questioned wouldn’t tell their boss if they weresuffering from a mental health condition, and over half of thosesay it’s because they fear it would affect their careerprospects.

60% of people say they’d turn to their family for supportcompared to a third who’d look to their GP and over four infive think people are generally too embarrassed to admitthere’s a problem.

Dr Doug Wright, clinical development manager at Norwich UnionHealthcare, says: "Despite increasing levels of mental healthproblems people still feel unable to ask for help when they needit, and are relying on friends and relatives to support them attimes of emotional crisis.

"Our Guide to Services for a Healthy Mind aims to give peoplethe opportunity to educate themselves on what services areavailable in their local area, or beyond, and how they can help.This may well help in the process of demystifying mental illnessand removing the stigma that’s often associated with it, andencourage people to trust a professional to provide support whenthey’re feeling emotionally vulnerable."

The Norwich Union Healthcare Healthy Minds study alsoreveals:

  • 16% would go to a friend for help with a mental healthcondition while just one per cent would use a counsellor orpsychiatrist – or tell their boss
  • A third of people say they either know someone who is, or arethemselves suffering from, a mild to moderate mental healthcondition
  • Men are more likely than women to keep quiet at work becausethey fear it will affect their career
  • 17% of those questioned say they’ve sought help oradvice from a healthcare professional for mild anxiety, depressionor stress; this rises to 29% of people in Wales and theSouth-West
  • While more women than men have sought help on mental healthissues like mild depression, panic attacks or anxiety, men aremore likely to have visited their GP regarding dependency onprescribed or illegal drugs, or alcoholism

Roger Taylor, research director of Dr Foster, which collated thedata for the online resource, said: "Mental health services havepreviously suffered from the ‘Cinderella’ effect andnot had the priority they deserve. But, this is changing, as theGovernment has embarked on a £300m programme of modernisation toimprove access to effective treatment and care, reduce unfairvariation, raise standards, and provide quicker and more convenientservices. Nobody doubts there is a lot of work to do."

The new online Guide to Services for a Healthy Mind from NorwichUnion Healthcare, offers the facility to search for mental healthservice provision in the UK, either by postcode or by specificservice. It also provides a comprehensive glossary of mental healthproblems and the different therapies available as well as series ofpractical resources such as a Stress Counselling Helpline, andinformation and tips on coping with stress.

The service is free online at of the website includes research into the provision ofservices provided by primary care organisations for adults withmild to moderate mental health and alcohol problems.


Media contacts:

Jo Misson or Charlotte Ruddlesdin at QBO Bell Pottingeron 020 7861 2424. Lorna Wiltshire at Norwich Union Press Office on01904 723236 or 07788 471849

Notes to editors:

Journalists wanting a limited free trial for Personal HealthManager, please visit log in as a first time user with the access code: C216468C6.Once you have logged in, this code will allow you to trial PersonalHealth Manager as a registered user from now until 31 March 2004*.DO NOT PUBLISH THIS ACCESS CODE – IT IS FOR JOURNALIST USEONLY.The Guide to Services for a Healthy Mind research wascommissioned by Norwich Union Healthcare and carried out by DrFoster in July 2003.

Omnibus research was commissioned by Norwich Union Healthcareand carried out by TNS among 1000 UK adults on 19th – 21stDecember 2003.

1 in 4 people will be affected by mental illness at some pointin their lives. The Mental Health Foundation, data derived fromGoldberg, D. & Huxley P. Mental Illness in the Community, 1980.Also Goldberg, D. ‘Filters to Care’ in Indicators forMental Health in the Population. Jenkins, R. & Griffiths, S.(ed), The Stationery Office, 1991

About Norwich Union Healthcare

  • Norwich Union Healthcare was founded in 1990 as the healthcarearm of Norwich Union and now provides a range of income protectionand private medical insurance products that cover over 750,000lives. It is one of the largest providers of income protection andprivate medical insurance in the UK.
  • Norwich Union Healthcare is a member of the General InsuranceStandards Council, the Association of British Insurers and theFinancial Ombudsman Service.
  • Norwich Union’s news releases and a selection of imagesare available from Aviva’s internet press centre at
  • An ISDN facility is available for studio quality broadcast. Callthe press office on 08703 66 68 68
  • For all life, pensions and equity release media enquiries call08703 66 68 73
  • For all other media enquiries call 08703 66 68 68

About Dr Foster

  • Dr Foster is the leading independent authority on healthcarequality in the UK. It publishes information which is accessibleto the general public and provides information analysis to theprofessional healthcare community.
  • An independent Ethics Committee with substantial powers toenforce editorial and research integrity oversees theorganisation.
  • Further information is available at

About Depression Alliance

  • Depression Alliance is the leading UK charity for people withdepression. We work to relieve and to prevent this treatablecondition by providing information, support and understanding tothose who are affected by it. We also campaign to raise awarenessamongst the general public about the realities of depression.

Back to top