By Tim Nicholls, Policy Manager, The National Autistic Society

World Mental Health Day 2017Last year, on World Mental Health Day, I wrote a blog about how important getting the right support from mental health services is, and how hard some people find it to get that support.

One year on, mental health is still just as important. Autistic people often tell us that they struggle to get an autism diagnosis and have to wait too long. They also tell us that when they need mental health support, services don’t understand both their mental health problem and their autism.

In this blog, I want to tell you a bit about what we have been working on at The National Autistic Society over the last year, what progress we’ve made and what we still need to do.

Autism diagnosis waiting times – a campaign win!

In our Autism diagnosis crisis campaign, over the last two years, we have highlighted research showing that autistic people are waiting on average over two years for a diagnosis. This makes it harder to get the support that an autistic person might need, and can put huge strain on individuals and their families. In the worst cases, it can lead to people developing mental health problems.

As a result of our campaigning in England – along with thousands of supporters – we recently had a commitment from the Government that diagnosis waiting times will be collected from April 2018. Alongside this crucial data, we also expect the numbers of autistic people trying to get a diagnosis to be recorded. This will finally give local decision-makers the information they need to plan services. This is a great step forward! But we want to make sure that it is used and we will carry on campaigning, to make sure that local and national commissioners bring down waiting times.

This isn’t only an issue in England, and we raise diagnosis waiting times with governments across the UK. In Wales, for example, as a result of our campaigning, proposals for an Autism Bill are currently being discussed at the National Assembly for Wales, which tackles diagnosis. You can have your say about the Bill and what it should contain here. In Scotland, we are calling for local waiting times standards for diagnosis and in Northern Ireland we monitor the implementation of the autism strategy.

Transforming Care

Transforming Care is the NHS England programme to reduce the number of people in mental health hospitals who are on the autism spectrum or who have a learning disability. It’s a really important programme, because autistic people should be supported to live in their communities, and inpatient care is too often not appropriate. Our new Transforming Care: our stories report highlights that the system still isn’t working properly, and makes recommendations about what needs to change. This includes making sure that the right services, with the right levels of autism understanding are available across England, and making sure individuals and their families are listened to. Over the coming weeks and months, we will take these recommendations forward, and we’ll keep you updated.

We also worked with YoungMinds to highlight the need strengthen the rights of children and young people in inpatient care in our Always campaign.

What else is coming up?

Last week, the Prime Minister announced that there would be an independent review of the Mental Health Act, led by Sir Simon Wessely. An MP, Steve Reed, has also brought forward a Bill in Parliament to stop inappropriate use of restraint in inpatient care. The Care Quality Commission is also soon to publish a review into mental health services for children and young people.

So, there is a lot going on around mental health at the moment. The National Autistic Society will be raising the issues that autistic people face in getting the right support, to try and make services much better for people on the autism spectrum.

Mental health problems can be more common for people on the autism spectrum than in the general population, and the mental health of autistic people is often overlooked.

Find out more on our website