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Charity chief blames austerity for alarming rise in mental health issues in North Wales

Austerity has led to an alarming rise in the number of people with mental health problems, according to the boss of an advocacy charity.

Elfed Williams, the director of services at the Conwy and Denbighshire Mental Health Advocacy Service (CADMHAS), revealed there has been a 15 per cent increase in their workload over the past year.

Mr Williams was speaking at a special event to mark the St Asaph-based organisation’s 10th anniversary.

Appropriately, the venue for the celebration was the Eirianfa Community Centre in Denbigh where CADMHAS was launched to provide a voice for people unable to represent themselves.

The guests of honour included co-chairs Jenny Gilmore and Anne Dennis who helped found the organisation after experiencing mental health problems themselves.

Since starting with just one member of staff, quickly followed by others, the charity now employs 19 people and has expanded its operation to take in the county of Powys as well.

Their teams work with people who are in mental health units or out in the community, as well looking after the interests of people with dementia.

Another team works with younger people aged from 11 to 25 to help them cope with issues at school or other problems.

Elfed Williams said: “Today is certainly an important day in the history of CADMHAS and I am lucky to have an incredibly hard-working team, including a volunteer who eventually became a full member of staff

“I would say by now we help around 1,300 people every year through all of our projects and that has grown by around 15 per cent in numbers in the last year.

“The demand is going up, especially with the community projects.

“The number of those that are in the mental health units and the care homes are on the whole pretty stable but the number of those in the community project has doubled to around 600.

“Services have disappeared as a result of austerity-driven spending cuts and there is now more poverty.

“As a result, people can’t pay their rent and they’re evicted. This can have a detrimental impact on their mental health which makes them worry about money matters because they haven’t got enough money to live on.

“It becomes a vicious circle that brings mental health problems to the fore in a way that it perhaps wouldn’t have before.

“The introduction of Universal Credit seems to have been another factor. I spoke with someone who runs a local food bank and they said that there were a lot of problems with people having to wait for their benefits.

“Austerity has going for almost as long as we have been in existence, and there is no evidence that things are improving yet. If anything, it’s getting worse and I find that quite alarming.

“At least CADMHAS is there to give people a helping hand. We make a difference to people’s lives and that is reflected in the messages we get back from people who use the service. We’re a voice for people who are unable to speak up for themselves, be this in a mental health facility, community, hospital or a care home.

“We’re very lucky with the trustees that we have and our co-chairs, Anne and Jenny, have been users of the mental health services so their perspective is invaluable.

“They are brilliant. They help they support us as a service and they’re there to give us direction of the way forward as well.”

Jenny, who lives in Denbigh, said: “We’ve got a brilliant team and I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved. There is a huge need for this service.

“We can all be subject to mental illness – it doesn’t matter how much money you have or how well educated you are. It’s totally irrelevant.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Anne, from Trefnant, who added: “I have suffered from depression through periods of my life. I think it would have been really helpful if had had an advocate.

“Nowadays, advocacy is client-instructed and I think that would have empowered me to be able to manage things a lot better than I was able to do.

“I’m a survivor and I think we all are, but you’ve got to have the right support at the right time.”

Solicitor Lynette Viney-Passig is a Trustee and provides legal support.

She said: “I felt it was important to be part of this organisation and my day job means that I sometimes work with vulnerable people who have mental health issues.

“I felt that my experience meant I could make a valuable contribution, along with other people who have expertise in different areas.

“The work done by CADMHAS is absolutely vital, and the needs and wellbeing of our service users are at the heart of everything we do.”