Strokes made NHS boss Phil campaign for better mental health care

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Phil Woodford is calling for more psychological support for stroke survivors, after experiencing for himself the difficulty of getting help following two strokes.

The 48 year old from Catterall says the strokes over one weekend in 2016 left him with aspects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), severe depression and feeling suicidal.

But he says he was forced to get his own treatment for his mental health problems.

Phil is now backing a campaign by the Stroke Association calling for more support to cope with hidden and often overlooked psychological and emotional effects of a stroke.

He said: “A stroke changes not just the survivor’s life overnight but also their family’s. I had never had bad or negative thoughts before but I started feeling suicidal as I couldn’t see much of a future. I couldn’t cope...I was scared, angry, upset and frightened.”

Keen cyclist Phil, Associate Director of Corporate Affairs at University Hospital of Morecambe Bay NHS Foundation Trust, is now back at work. He was 45 when illness hit in August 2016 and says that although he has not regained all his physical skills it is the mental challenges which have been the hardest to cope with.

He praises the NHS for the treatment of his stroke but said “I think psychological support and rehab should start as soon as a stroke is diagnosed, to help stroke survivors overcome the emotional impact of their stroke.

“I saw my GP and told her about the suicidal thoughts and she referred me for mental health support but it was rejected, and they just said to adjust my anti-depressants.

“I ended up going private to the Priory in Bury and it has been a lifesaver. I have been treated with talking therapies and I feel more positive about the future.

Phil said: “For a while, I felt like a failure, but I have got over that now.

“There is one good thing that has come out of the stroke and that is it has made me realise the important things in life. I spend much more time with my children and am happier.”

He said the Priory helped him recognise he had aspects of PTSD and severe depression: “When the depression comes I just want to crawl into a ball and be alone.”

He twice planned suicide but said: “I was able to bring myself round by thinking about the good things in my life, especially my family, my dog and friends.”

After a week at Royal Preston Hospital, Phil made the decision to be transferred to the Royal Lancaster Infirmary for his rehabilitation and spent three months having intensive physiotherapy. It took about a month for him to get his first movements back. When discharged from hospital he was given a package of care at home as he was then unable to wash or dress himself.

According to new research by the Stroke Association almost a million people who have survived a stroke have developed at least one mental health problem.

Its report The Lived Experience of Stroke- Hidden Effects is based on a survey of 11,134 stroke sufferers has just been published.

Phil's is not an isolated case. According to the new research from the Stroke Association almost a million people who have survived a stroke have developed at least one mental health problem. Its report on the ‘Lived Experience of Stroke- Hidden Effects’ is based on a survey of 11,134 stroke sufferers. The Association says it published the report to “expose the realities of living with stroke and highlight the many gaps in support that still exist" and t says it wants everyone affected by stroke to have access to the support they need, when they need it.

There are currently more than 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK, and 78% face a battle with depression, anxiety, a lack of confidence, mood swings or even suicidal thoughts. The Association said: “Yet worryingly, 27% of people say they have not received enough emotional support to help rebuild their lives.”

The first chapter of the report demonstrates how these hidden effects of stroke affect almost everyone, yet can often go unnoticed by people in a stroke survivor’s life. Anxiety and fear top the list of emotions which have the highest impact within the first six months of a stroke, but most respondents reported these effects can improve over time.

Most positively more than half of the stroke survivors surveyed reported they now feel positive emotions.

However, one in six (16%) reported having suicidal thoughts. Personal relationships can also be negatively affected; 86% of those questioned experienced fatigue which does not get better with rest; more than 83% had problems with short or long term memory and 80% reported issues with concentration.

Juliet Bouverie, Chief Executive of the Stroke Association, said: “This report exposes the true devastation stroke can bring. These figures are extremely concerning, and show a desperate need for support to cope with the hidden, and often overlooked, effects of stroke. Far too many lives have been destroyed by stroke, and no-one should be left feeling suicidal.

“The evidence highlights how important it is that families, friends and health professionals who support stroke survivors understand what it means to live with these ‘hidden effects’, ask how people are feeling, and provide appropriate emotional and psychological support.”

* See www.stroke.org.uk/lived-experience-of-stroke-report

* The Stroke Association’s Helpline is 0303 3033 100 or contact stroke.org.uk

* The Samaritans’ helpline can be contacted on 116 123. This freephone number will not appear on your telephone bill.