The idea mentally ill people need to talk more is bullshit. We do ask the NHS for help. It isn’t there.
It feels as though mental health is always the hot topic in the media right now. There has been increasing attention due to soap storylines, celebrity deaths and due to campaigns focused upon getting people to speak more on their mental health. But the idea that we’re somehow being better or kinder to those with mental health conditions would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.
Our health care system is abysmal when it comes to any kind of chronic condition, and that includes mental health. It just doesn’t care. Part of this stems from the Government – a major part of it, in fact – because the NHS can’t fund services that are desperately needed but that isn’t the whole story. We live in a society that brushes off mental health conditions, where if you can work then you are well. So there is no clamour for better services or treatment by the majority of the population. This means that to our wider health service, mental health cuts seem like an acceptable loss in a time when they’re having to decide what (even essential) services get cut.
I have been given several different diagnoses at various times: anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, health anxiety and now I’m told I might have bipolar disorder but that my symptoms don’t seem that severe so they’re unsure. Because I can lie and hide my anguish I don’t warrant attention. I’m passed from service to service. I failed CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) the first time because it felt infantilising and like a one size fits all course which just wasn’t applicable to me. Sure, it works for a lot of people (and is the cheapest form of therapy) but it wasn’t right for me. That still hasn’t stopped the health service from trying to get me to do yet more courses of it despite my very loud protests, because it’s cheaper, quicker and easier than other forms of treatment.
I was offered interpersonal therapy to work on my relationships with others so I can allow myself to be supported, or counselling. It was an either/or choice with no knowledge of what would be best for me. I couldn’t be on two waiting lists at once, that would be greedy so I picked counselling. My first correspondence with them wasn’t exactly reassuring. I have health anxiety and worry each day my chronic pain will be a nuisance, and when I do have an episode I must cancel appointments because I’m simply in too much pain to go. This seems reasonable, right? Not really. This mental health service I was supposed to trust in spent the majority of the first letter warning me if I missed the appointment I’d be kicked off their service and might not be allowed on again. That was a really excellent introduction to someone who struggles with anxiety.
“I couldn’t be on two waiting lists at once, that would be greedy”
I had to go through yet another torturous mental health assessment over the phone, after they called my home phone (which was not a safe or private phone for me) and had to switch to my mobile. They just didn’t seem to care at all about increasing my anxiety. They then warned that if I expressed any desire to hurt myself or suicidal thoughts they would have to report that and that could lead to mental health interventions (such as sectioning). Can you imagine anything more terrifying than being told that if you talk too much then you could be taken from the one environment you feel safe? So, I hedged it. I scored high on my assessment so that I was in the ‘I’m absolutely fucking falling apart range’ but not so bad that they’d be barging down my door. The response? I was put on a four month waiting list and told I’d only be allowed six sessions anyway. Four months of waiting for someone whose mental health is falling apart.
The worst part is that my experiences aren’t even unique – and by many standards, I could actually be considered lucky. This year, one report found that people with ‘serious’ mental illnesses can wait up to two years for treatment. Thousands of people are waiting over six months, and to top it off, only one in ten Clinical Commissioning Groups and just over a half of mental health trusts are actually keeping track of waiting times. This means waiting times could actually be much worse than previously thought.
Every level of our services are failing mentally ill people: from how services engage with us to shocking waiting times and trying to prioritise cheaper treatments. The healthcare system is just trying to stay afloat but patients are the ones who are losing out. I’m going back to my GP to start the whole process again, but how many just feel abandoned? How many have this become the end of their stories? Stop telling us to talk. We do talk to the NHS and it isn’t listening. Use your voice and campaign for better services. That is the only thing that will save lives.
If you enjoyed reading this article, we’d appreciate your support, which you can offer by buying Stand Up a coffee here.