If psychosis were cancer: a speculative comparison

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Abstract

Recently, health policy in the UK has begun to engage with the concept of ‘parity of esteem’ between physical and mental healthcare. This has led one recent initiative to improve service provision for first episode psychosis, which aims to bring it into line with some of the principles underpinning good practice in cancer care. In this paper, we consider some of the metaphorical consequences of likening psychosis to cancer. While we find the comparison unhelpful for clinical purposes, we argue that it can be a helpful lens through which to examine service provision for psychosis in young people. Through this lens, specialist community-based services would appear to compare reasonably well. Inpatient care for young people with psychosis, on the other hand, suffers very badly by comparison with inpatient facilities for teenage cancer care. We note some of the many positive features of inpatient cancer care for young adults, and—drawing upon previous research on inpatient psychiatric care—observe that many of these are usually absent from mental health facilities. We conclude that this metaphor may be a helpful rhetorical device for communicating the lack of ‘parity of esteem’ between mental and physical healthcare. This inequity must be made visible in health policy, in commissioning, and in service provision.

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