Posted on 21/11/2018 by
'Governments promise survivors they will be looked after but this survey shows that when it comes to mental health services they are being routinely let down,' says Survivors Against Terror chair
Hundreds of terror attack victims say they have been left without support for psychological trauma caused by their ordeal because of a “profound crisis” in mental health services.
Victims, including children, caught in attacks in Manchester, London and overseas say they have faced year-long waits for NHS support, with some turning to private treatment to cope.
This is despite their experiences leaving them with post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD) which meant they couldn’t sleep or eat and in some cases were contemplating suicide.
In the first large-scale survey to assess the experiences of those caught up in attacks, or whose children or loved ones were, the group Survivors Against Terror said the government is failing to keep its promise to support victims.
On Wednesday the group will visit Downing Street to hand over the report and an open letter to Theresa May calling for her to do more to support families and tackle terrorism.
The survey found that 76 per cent of respondents said NHS mental health care needed to be improved.
Among this group more than 70 per cent thought the improvements needed were significant, compared with just 16 per cent who thought the emergency response or support with physical injuries could be improved.
Out of more than 270 people who responded, 57 per cent had been caught up in the attacks since 2010, with a third having been injured in an attack, and 45 per cent witnessing it.
Ruth Murrell was one of those injured, alongside her daughter Emily, in the suicide bombing of an Ariana Grande concert at the Manchester Arena on 22 May 2017 which killed 23 people and left 139 seriously hurt – many of them children.
“The physical injuries were serious but the mental side was very much harder to deal with,” Ms Murrell said. But when she approached her doctors for support after leaving hospital, all they could do was offer antidepressants and told her a referral to specialist mental health services had a wait of at least nine months.
“I couldn’t cope,” she said. “There was a period when I couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat and was vomiting constantly. I’m ashamed to say it now, but at the time I considered ending it all.
“I had to find my own specialists and go private, at £85 an hour, to get the support I desperately needed.”
Emily, who was 12 at the time, had a similarly bad experience and Ms Murrell said already overstretched NHS services just aren’t equipped to manage post-traumatic stress, particularly after a terror attack.
Survivors Against Terror warns that these issues are commonplace, and their survey responses reveal some people still seeking support more than a year on.
One respondent who witnessed an attack said they were given less support because they had not been physically injured in an attack they were caught up in.
“I was on the beach with my friend who was killed. I had to identify her at the mortuary that day,” the respondent said.
“As I wasn’t physically hurt, I felt as though I didn’t matter. It took nearly a year before I got any help for PTSD.”
Another, who was unable to work for 10 months due to injuries, said: “I came close to losing my job, which would have resulted in losing my home.”
While specialist mental health funding was made available to help victims of the Manchester attack, this is not nationwide and most people are reliant on their local mental health trusts.
"This report suggests that unfortunately substantial numbers of UK citizens affected by terrorism do not manage to access the right care," said Professor Neil Greenberg an expert in defence mental health and fellow of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
"Whilst treatment for PTSD can be effective even after a delay, early effective treatment can help people maintain important relationships, employment and their self-esteem.
"It is in the national interest to ensure that those who wish to harm our way of life do not succeed. Provision of timely and effective mental healthcare is an important part of ensuring they do not achieve their goals."
In all, the NHS and emergency services response was viewed positively, with hospital care after attacks rated very good or exceptional by 80 per cent of respondents.
But financial and legal support for those unable to work or suffering long-term consequences needs serious improvement, the report said.
“Governments promise survivors they will be looked after, but this survey shows that when it comes to mental health services they are being routinely let down,” said Charlotte Dixon Sutcliffe, chair of Survivors Against Terror whose husband died in the Brussels metro bombing.
“This survey has unearthed shocking stories that seem increasingly like the norm: survivors forced to pay for their own treatment; children denied help ending up harming themselves; and long waiting lists for people who urgently need support.”
While the survey does show that recognition and support for mental health has improved, there is more to do and in addition to mental health support the group points to particularly poor experience of the government response following terror attacks abroad, and in support for children.
It is also campaigning for more to be done to stamp out hate speech and extremist content online, for community inclusion, and for respectful treatment of survivors by the media.
A government spokesperson said: “Those affected by terrorist attacks rightly expect effective, comprehensive assistance. The report found that in many areas survivors rate the support they receive highly, but there is clearly more to do,”
“Following the attack in Manchester, we provided funding for specialist mental health support in the city and the government’s Victims of Terrorism Unit will continue to ensure the support for those affected by attacks both at home and abroad is swift and coordinated.
“We will continue to learn from the experiences of victims and look forward to working with Survivors Against Terror to inform our work.”