Why talking therapies can’t wait

3rd March 2020

Today SAMH has published a report called ‘Decisions were made about me not with me’, which explores people’s experiences of seeking treatment and support for depression.

Depression can mean different things for different people. In some cases it might mean being in low spirits and could make your normal life feel difficult and less worthwhile. At it’s most severe, depression can be life-threatening because it can make you feel suicidal. What’s important to remember is that with the right support, most people can and do recover from depression.

The report highlights that people with depression are struggling to access psychological therapies (talking therapies) and do not feel as involved in decisions about treatment as they would like. It’s based on the experiences of almost 300 people who responded to an online survey or took part in a focus group event.

The survey found that 48% of respondents had not been referred for a psychological therapy and that 46% had not been given any options for treatment and support. These findings are perhaps not surprising when you look at Scottish Government statistics published today, which show that no local health boards are meeting the 18 week waiting times target for people to get their first appointment with an NHS psychologist.[1]

Scotland was the first country to introduce a waiting time target for psychological therapies, to help ensure that people were not stuck on waiting lists indefinitely for mental health support. Despite this ambition, only a handful of NHS Boards have ever successfully met the waiting time target and, at one point last year, there were no NHS Boards meeting the target.

People who took part in our survey and focus groups told us that long waiting times for psychological therapies make it hard for them to be involved in decisions about their treatment, as it limits their options. One participant told us ‘[The Doctor] refused to put me on the waiting list for counselling as they said with the waiting list in my area there was no point.’

This needs to be addressed, because our findings also show us that the more involved someone is in decisions about their treatment the more likely they are to be happy with that treatment. That is why we are calling on the Scottish Government to review the psychological therapies waiting time target, as well as psychological therapy provision across Scotland.

People’s choice should not be limited because of long waiting times and a lack of mental health support services. We need to ensure that people have easy access to the full range of NHS psychological therapies. The last thing someone needs when they are asking for help with their mental health, is to be told that the help they need isn’t an option.

Read our report here - 'Decisions were made about me not with me'


[1] ISD Scotland Psychological therapies waiting times March 2020