I recently pushed myself massively out of my comfort zone and sat down in front of a camera to talk about my experiences with mental health support for an ITV report. It was daunting, but something that felt important to do – a few years ago the idea of even receiving adequate support for the problems I was experiencing seemed impossible, so the opportunity to actually have my perspective and experiences listened to and shared still feels like something I can’t quite wrap my head around. Today I thought I’d expand a lil upon what I talked about in the clips because I have a lot to rant about and, as writing has the benefit of an edit button, my sentences (unlike in real life) won’t be quite as littered with the word ‘like’. I guess this piece is partly an attempt to shed light on how difficult it can be to access support and partly a way for me to get a bit of anger out about it all – the impacts of not having your mental health taken seriously can be really damaging and it’s something I still struggle with massively, despite having received treatment and massively improved in managing my symptoms.
Throughout my attempts to access support for my mental health I’ve been described by a GP as “emotionally weak”, been told that cutting is a perfectly normal outlet but just to keep knives clean whilst in A&E, waited over a year to see a psychiatrist who (from seeing the notes taken afterwards) didn’t actually seem to listen to what I’d talked about (getting key details wrong) and seen plenty of people who, without further investigation, were quick to either diagnose or refer me to a long waiting list with no support in the interim. In part this is because toxic mentalities regarding mental health are still prevalent, however much people dismiss needing to continue to change the dialogue surrounding the issue. It’s also partly down to the fact that the NHS is severely underfunded and, unless you have the financial means to go private, support can be inaccessible even when you need it most. This isn’t to say that the NHS isn’t full of wonderful and empathetic people who genuinely want to/are capable of helping – I know those people exist and work ridiculously hard to improve things. But without the resources or the capacity to advocate for yourself, they can be incredibly hard to find.
The result is people dying. And people being robbed of opportunities and happiness and quality of life. People are left feeling invalidated, unwanted and unsupported. I tried to do everything right to look after my mental health – I tried exercise, eating healthy, mindfulness. It wasn’t enough and until I received support from 42nd street I believed I was likely going to be incapable of living the kind of life that I wanted to live. At some points in my life suicide just felt like an inevitability. And it’s uncomfortable to talk about and it makes people feel awkward and nobody knows what to say. But I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to not talk about these things, not to get angry about them and not start pursuing change. Because it wasn’t my determination to get better alone that saved my life. It was support that took years and years to access, but that was life changing when I did.
Things are changing when it comes to mental health support – the University of Manchester are now running a pilot scheme alongside the NHS, they provide access to Big White Wall and wellbeing is talked about more and more. I’ve had positive experiences with the University Counselling Service (though they’re not there to/capable of supporting more complex mental health needs). But until there’s more money put into the NHS, allowing for people to receive adequate time and support when they need it, people will continue to suffer. There are lots of ways that you can help to improve things – consider how you vote in elections, donate to charities that pursue research/support people experiencing mental health problems (like 42nd street) and try to be as supportive as possible if someone you know is struggling. It can be difficult to know what to say and daunting to figure out how to get things right, but validating people’s emotions, offering to be there for them and asking what you can do to help is (in my opinion) invaluable. You can even find downloadable PDF files on the Mind website for different mental health conditions, explaining symptoms and causes and ways in which you can help to support someone. All of these things are so important to do, because sentiments like “it’s okay not to be okay” are useless without the support structures that people deserve.