Dan Parton cutLast year, there were more than 200 news stories published on the Mental Health Today website, covering a multitude of issues that affect people with mental health issues and those who provide support to them. Editor Dan Parton looks at the 10 most viewed stories of the year.

Please note, this top 10 is based on the number of people who clicked on the story – it doesn’t necessarily mean they were the most significant.

The most read story on the MHT website in 2016 concerned Gatwick Airport launching a lanyard for passengers with hidden disabilities, including dementia, who may require additional support when travelling through the airport.

The lanyard, which is voluntary for passengers with hidden disabilities and their families, will act as a discreet sign for staff that additional support or help may be required. 

The initiative was launched in May, and as part of that, Gatwick worked to increase awareness and training of airport staff and appoint ‘workplace champions’ to provide enhanced assistance for passengers with hidden disabilities.

The second most viewed story was the announcement that BBC One was to run a season of programmes on mental health, called ‘In The Mind’. 

Among other things, this involved the ongoing Stacey Branning storyline in Eastenders – the character experienced postpartum psychosis after the birth of her son – as well as content on News at 10 and The One Show. Also shown was The Not So Secret Life Of The Manic Depressive: 10 Years On. This followed on from Stephen Fry’s award-winning series shown a decade ago when he first spoke about living with manic depression, and began a national conversation about mental health. A decade later, he returned to the subject to understand where he and thousands of others diagnosed with bipolar are now and, as a society, whether we need to do more for those with the illness? 

The third most read story concerned the call by a professor of psychiatry to abandon ‘schizophrenia’ as a diagnosis and replace it with something like ‘psychosis spectrum syndrome’. 

Writing in The BMJ, Professor Jim van Os from Maastricht University Medical Centre said several others have called for updated psychiatric classifications, particularly regarding the term ‘schizophrenia.’ Japan and South Korea have already abandoned this term.

Professor van Os argued that the classification is complicated, particularly for psychotic illness. Currently, psychotic illness is classified among many categories, including schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, delusional disorder, depression or bipolar disorder with psychotic features, and others. Categories such as these “do not represent diagnoses of discrete diseases, because these remain unknown; rather, they describe how symptoms can cluster, to allow grouping of patients,” he wrote.

The fourth most viewed story looked at mental health issues among psychological professionals – and found they are at a worryingly high level. 

Findings from a British Psychological Society and New Savoy staff wellbeing survey of more than 1,300 psychological professionals in the NHS in 2015 showed that 46% reported depression, with 49.5% saying they felt a failure. One quarter considered they now have a long-term, chronic condition, and 70% said they find their jobs stressful. All these findings were up on those reported in 2014.

The most common reasons behind the rise in mental health issues were a managerial fixation on targets – complained about by 41% - and workplace environments creating stress and burnout, cited by 38%. Extra administrative demands, an increase in having to work unpaid hours and staff being prevented from providing adequate therapy due to resource cuts were other frequent themes. 

A care home closed by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) after being found inadequate in every area was the 5th most read story. Harcourt House, a private 10-bed mental health hospital in Catford, southeast London, run by CarePlus Partnership, closed after CQC inspectors found a catalogue of regulation breaches. This included patients not being restrained in a safe manner, lack of access to psychological therapies and one patient had been locked in their room for several weeks – a breach of the patient’s human rights.

In a similar vein, the ninth most read story was Huntercombe Hospital – Stafford, which provides child and adolescent mental health inpatient services for up to 39 young people aged 8 to 18 years, being put into special measures by England’s chief inspector of hospitals after a CQC inspection rated it inadequate.

The decision came after an unannounced inspection, which found that there was no effective system in place to safeguard the wellbeing of the young people at the hospital. The inspection came after serious concerns were highlighted to the commission.

On the flipside, the sixth most read story concerned the first two mental health trusts to be rated as outstanding by the CQC since it changed its inspection regime – showing that it isn’t just bad news about providers that generate interest among readers. 

Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust and East London NHS Foundation Trust achieved the rating. In both cases, the trusts were praised for the quality of their leadership, which helps clinical teams to focus on delivering care to patients.

The role that schools and teachers have to play in helping children and young people with mental health issues was a recurring theme in 2016, but back in January a poll found that more than two thirds of teachers don’t believe they have the appropriate training to help spot mental health issues in pupils

The research, by the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER), found that while 62% of those surveyed felt they could identify behaviour that could be linked to mental health issues, only 32% felt they received appropriate mental health training to identify problems in pupils. The NFER report suggested that the findings showed that school staff are gaining knowledge on how to deal with mental health issues by other means than in-school training.

Of ways to support pupils’ mental health in schools, 60% of respondents favoured counselling services for pupils, while 52% said training staff on mental health and wellbeing was a useful strategy. Strong engagement with families and young people was cited by 29% of respondents.

Another recurring theme in 2016 was integration of physical and mental health services. To this end, in October, NHS England announced the first stage of delivery of expanded psychological therapies in primary care for people with long-term conditions such as diabetes or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

NHS England awarded more than £11 million in 2016/17 and some £24 million in 2017/18 to fund 30 clinical commissioning groups to improve mental health care for patients with long-term conditions through 22 different psychological therapies schemes. 

Many people with anxiety disorders or depression also have a long-term condition like diabetes or COPD. A pilot showed that treating people’s physical and mental health problems in an integrated way can lead to better outcomes improving both people’s mental health and their management of their long-term condition.

Finally, the tenth most read story reported South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust’s launch of a 24-hour mental health helpline for people living in the London boroughs of Lambeth, Southwark, Lewisham and Croydon. It is staffed by a team of 6 nurses who provide a single point of contact for people experiencing crisis or facing difficulties dealing with mental illness.

The freephone line offers a range of supportive interventions, advice on mental health and medication, accessing services, crisis reviews and liaison with care teams for service users, carers and anyone who needs advice around mental health in the South London area.

The stories that made it into the top 10 demonstrate that ongoing concerns in the sector, such as quality of services (or lack of it), integration of physical and mental health services and the role of schools in children and young people’s mental health care, still generate much interest.

It is likely that these issues will continue to make the headlines in 2017 – and hopefully progress will be made in addressing them.