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New NHS Guidance to Tackle Mental Health and Substance Misuse

Armen Hareyan's picture

A step forward in tackling the problems arising from mental illness combined with substance misuse was made today, as Mental Health Tsar Louis Appleby launched new guidance aimed at improving the care received by people with both a mental health and a drug problem.

Mental health patients who have a drug and/or alcohol problem - also known as dual diagnosis - are more likely to be at risk of taking their own lives, are more likely to be in contact with the criminal justice system, are more likely to be hospitalised and are less likely comply with medication and other treatments.

National Clinical Director for Mental Health, Professor Louis Appleby said:

"The evidence is clear. The misuse of substances -particularly cannabis - can worsen the symptoms of mental illness, interfere with people's recovery and medication, and increase the chance that someone could relapse. People with both a mental health and substance misuse problem are also at greater risk of harming themselves and others.

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"We want to ensure that dual diagnosis patients do not miss out on they care they need because mental health services and drug treatment services are not joined-up. We have already done much to ensure that both services work more closely together, and this guidance builds on this. It makes clear that the ability to provide dual diagnosis patients with the treatment and care they require should be the norm - not the exception - in mental health services."

The guidance centres on the care provided in in-patient settings and makes a number of recommendations for NHS mental health services. These include:

that all clinical staff in mental health services have the skills to assess and manage patients with a substance misuse problem; that substance misuse and mental health services should become more integrated; and ideas and best practice examples for front-line managers to help them improve services.

In addition, a new resource focused on making patients more aware of the risks of substance misuse and helping them to get their problems under control has been produced. It supports health professionals to discuss drug use with patients and to give them the information they need to reduce their use of cannabis.

Paul Corry, Director of Public Affairs at Rethink said:

"These new resources are very much needed and should be in high demand for professionals faced with the complex issues that dual diagnosis can present. Rethink is delighted that the Department of Health has recognised risks posed by cannabis to mental health in the materials."