By Jasmin Gray
People who have lived through terror attacks are “routinely” being let down by mental health services, with survivors forced to wait months for treatment or pay for their own care, a landmark study has revealed.
In a nationwide survey of 271 terror survivors – the first of its kind – 76% of respondents said mental health services must be improved. Meanwhile, three-quarters of this group demanded “dramatic” change.
“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,” said Charlotte Dixon Sutcliffe, chair of Survivors Against Terror, the group which commissioned the survey.
“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.”
Respondents recounted waiting up to 14 months to see a psychologist after being caught up in a terrorist attack, while one parent said: “It took 11 months after the attack and my highlighting the lack of child mental health care on a TV programme to get help for my daughter.”
Meanwhile Ruth Murrell, who was seriously injured in the Manchester Arena attack alongside her daughter, said: “The physical injuries were serious, but the mental side was very much harder to deal with.
“After almost six weeks in hospital I went to the doctors to ask for help with the trauma – all they could offer was antidepressants,” she said, adding she was told it could take up to a year for an initial appointment with mental health services.
“I couldn’t cope. 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.”
In the end, Murrell was forced to pay £85-an-hour for private treatment.
While survivors rated support from paramedics, police and NHS staff highly, the need to improve financial support was another area flagged for improvement by survivors, as was a lack of legal support.
Almost half (46%) of those caught up in terror attacks abroad rated support from the UK government as ‘poor’, while 67% of survivors requiring child support said the help their children received was simply adequate or poor.
“This is the first ever large scale survey of survivors of terror attacks and we hope the experiences and views of survivors are taken seriously,” Dixon Sutcliffe added. “Terrorists seek to divide and destroy our country – it is our mission to make sure they don’t succeed.
“That means tackling hatred in all its forms, looking after survivors and pulling together as a country.”
A Department for Health and Social Care 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.”