By Eloise Stark

I COULD not be happier to hear the news that Oxfordshire County Council has reversed its decision to reducing its funding to the Oxfordshire Mental Health Partnership (OMHP) by £1.6 million over the next three years.

The decision, which will come as a boost for people with a serious mental illness, followed widespread concerns being raised about the council proposals.

However, funding still remains a tough challenge for the OMHP, who provide a lifeline to many individuals suffering with mental illness, including myself. I would like to give some examples of how the OMHP has helped me personally, to give a flavour of the vital work done within these organisations.

READ MORE: Oxfordshire council makes dramatic U-turn on mental health cut

I have several serious mental health diagnoses and have benefitted hugely from OMHP services during the last five years, since I became unwell following a violent assault on me by a member of the public.

I have been a patient with Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust since this time, and have received excellent care from empathic, inspiring and kind clinicians.

The level of care is generally exceptional and staff go above and beyond their remit on a daily basis to keep people like myself well. However, they are clearly in need of greater resources.

For instance, in 2018 I had four different care coordinators. As will be obvious, the high turnover of staff due to rising stress levels probably contributed to this and to the lack of continuity I have encountered. I have often been told that time for clinicians is precious and that their workloads are enormous, and mounting.

During 2015-16 I spent the majority of time in Warneford Hospital. The longest period I was living in the community during these two years was seven weeks. I was completely without hope and struggling to regain my life.

A volunteer from the charity Restore came to visit me in hospital and suggested I apply for a place in one of their recovery groups. I applied, and was offered a place at The Beehive on Manzil Way. When I next left hospital, I had something to strive for and to get out of bed for – I had a community at the Beehive of people who understood my struggles and could support me to get better.

Without this support, I would not have been able to stay out of hospital. I have now resumed my studies at Oxford University studying for a DPhil in Psychiatry. I hope that my research and career will bring benefits to people suffering from poor mental health. Without the service of Restore, I would probably still be a patient in the Warneford.

Lastly, as I grew and recuperated with the help of The Beehive and Restore, I decided I needed to progress in my recovery by finding a new challenge. I applied to become a tutor at the Oxfordshire Recovery College (also part of the OHMP) and completed tutor training, grew in confidence, and am now employed by the Recovery College as a part-time tutor.

I teach courses to people affected by mental health (service users, carers and professionals) and each course I teach, I am confident that at least one person (and hopefully the whole room!) goes home with a bit more hope. We provide a lifeline for many people, and cuts to our funding would have been detrimental to so many people.

If anything, we should be putting more money into mental health services and the charitable organisations that support affected people, not less. The proposed cuts would have meant a significant reduction to services for Oxfordshire residents, of which 5,000 are helped each year by the OMHP.

Possible consequences of reduced services include poorer wellbeing, homelessness, and family breakdown. But most strikingly, the effect of these budget cuts would have been to increase healthcare costs as mental health declines.

Services are currently ill-equipped to be proactive in prevention of serious mental health conditions and are instead reactive to crises and people becoming even more unwell. Funding is therefore vital to enable these services to both continue what they do and plan for preventative measures in future.

I am one among thousands who have benefitted greatly from the OMHP, both Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and the charitable organisations that support people with mental health difficulties in Oxfordshire.

With one in four adults affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime, you are bound to know countless people affected. We can’t let these people down if we want to build a resilient, happy society.

Eloise Stark is a DPhil candidate in Psychiatry at Somerville College, Oxford University