Mental illness is not always obvious to the observer. I often said to my mother that if I had a broken leg everybody would be able to see what was wrong with me.
I was 20, depressed, alcoholic and anorexic. I wanted to die. But I walked around by day with a huge smile and an infectious giggle. At night I went for long walks. I cried, and I walked, and I cried, until I was exhausted. Only then could I go home and sleep.
I have been hospitalised twice, both times I agreed to it, and I went in on the understanding that I wouldn’t be there for long.
I think I was lucky. My GP was brilliant. He did everything he could to help me and to get treatment for me. But it’s not always like that, and anyway, that was over 20 years ago. I have been told (by a psychiatrist) that if I was in crisis now and wanted to check in to hospital, it would have to be the type of crisis that involved me running down the road naked with a meat cleaver. Not my style. I just want help.
There are NHS services out there. They just don’t always meet the needs of the people who use them. For example, a couple of years ago I was being looked after by my local NHS Mental Health Trust. I had a psychiatrist and a Mental Health Nurse assigned to me. I was put on a couple of initiatives to help with anxiety, as I was becoming increasingly reluctant to leave the safety of my own home.
And that’s where, for me, everything started to unravel. I had an appointment with my psychiatrist but didn’t go. I couldn’t face going out. I didn’t phone to cancel because I was scared of…. something, the reason wasn’t tangible but it felt real.
This happened twice more, appointments were made that I didn’t keep and didn’t cancel. Then I got a letter saying that as I had missed my appointments I was being referred back to my GP.
That was it. No follow-up, no phone call to ask how I was doing and why I didn’t turn up to my appointments. So now I don’t have medical support. I get repeat prescriptions from my GP via the internet and only go to see my doctor if I really have to. And then I ask someone I trust to come to the appointment with me and sit in on the consultation.
The statistics say that 1 in 4 people in the UK suffer from depression at some point in their lives. It could be a temporary low point in their lives or it could be a constant battle to survive.
Awareness seems to be growing. More people are talking about mental health. There is a lot of help and support out there. Charities, Support Groups, Social Media Groups, TV documentaries. Celebrities either talk or write about their own mental health issues.
So back to my initial question. What are we trying to achieve? Change.
We want NHS Mental Health services to be fit for purpose. We don’t want to have to wait months for a hospital bed if we’re in crisis, if we even qualify for a bed. We are in crisis now and may not be alive by the time a bed becomes available. We want to be understood and helped.
It is often very difficult to spot the signs. By nature it is a secretive illness. I don’t know how many years I had been suffering from depression before it was spotted and acknowledged. I lied and covered up what was going on. I lied as much to myself as I did to others.
Change is going to be a slow process, but I believe our society has made the first few steps by starting to talk openly about it. And I realise there are funding issues and the need for trained staff, I know it won’t be easy or immediate.
I think the real answer is that I want to make a difference.