Why Are We Still Waiting?

News, Opinion

When statistics were released this week, revealing that one in ten mental health patients are on a NHS waiting list for more than a year before they are assessed for treatment and one in six have attempted suicide while on the waiting list, it quite rightly made shocking headlines. The latest evidence of the mental health crisis, the latest betrayal by the NHS.

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Personally, I wasn’t shocked at all. I didn’t need a survey to tell me that patients can often wait over a year, with little to no medical contact. Nor, that in order to receive any sort of immediate help from the NHS the patient must be considered desperate – think attempted suicide and self-harm. I didn’t need the statistics to tell me all this because I have been experiencing it first hand for the last two years, when I initially gathered the courage to seek help for my own mental health.

When I was 17, after various trips to the doctor proved disappointing, a friend said to me, “You need to tell them you’re going to kill yourself or they just won’t do anything.”

As extreme and dispiriting as it sounds, this has turned out to be drastically true. During the sixth months I waited to be assessed and the further year before I was offered any form of treatment, I often felt the need to lie and exaggerate my symptoms at doctors appointments, in a desperate plea for help. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted them to do, I just wanted something to happen.

When I finally began assessment with the Community Mental Health Team I actually felt that the whole process was having a negative rather than positive effect. The lack of appointments was such that I didn’t see anyone on a regular basis and therefore never built up any of those trusting relationships I so often hear about. The Mental Health Nurse was supposed to be my support, someone who I could call at any time, but I didn’t feel that this was the case. Seeking help for a mental health issue is extremely difficult and took every inch of strength I had in me. I constantly felt like I was putting everything in and getting nothing back in return. When I actually did have appointments, I always left feeling despondent, wanting to give up.

I can think of only one way to describe the evidence and my own experience and that is, for want of a better word, depressing. I think of myself as lucky that I found the strength not to give up on life, but the bottom line is nobody should be left feeling this desperate, especially when they have reached out for help. Waiting lists can’t be avoided but patients shouldn’t be left feeling abandoned and even worse, as though they may as well of not sought help in the first place. Waiting until someone has attempted suicide before taking any action is just unfathomable. What is it they say? Prevention is better than cure?

Now my mind is much healthier and I can actually say that I am happy place, but I don’t put this down to the NHS. I put it down to finding ways to overcome battles on my own, including writing this blog. Just last month I finally received an appointment with a psychologist in the post, a year and a half after I first went to see a doctor. I laughed when I opened the letter.

 


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Murdered by Anorexia

News

Image copyright of orangetreetheatre.co.uk

One year ago, 56 year old actress Briony McRoberts took her own life, jumping in front of a train. Her real killer? Anorexia.

After suffering with the eating disorder in her teenage years, Briony had lived a normal life, relatively free from Anorexic tendencies until she reached her 50’s and the illness began to develop again, this time fatally. On BBC Radio 5 Live this morning (see link below) her husband, Downton Abbey actor David Robb gave an incredibly moving, influential interview discussing Briony’s struggle, in a bid to raise awareness of the fact that Anorexia can effect anyone, at any age and it is not just a phase which is going to go away.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p022tvgd

Although eating disorders may be more widely discussed now than a few years back, it is still generally thought that Anorexia is a ‘teenage girls illness’. Briony’s tragic story brings to the forefront just how real and dangerous Anorexia is. I personally, found the discussion extremely difficult to listen to, it really hit home hard, as I’m sure it did for many other listeners, but I felt an overwhelming respect for David for speaking so bravely, with such depth and understanding and for bringing the issue to attention. As harrowing as stories such as this are, society needs people such as David, and the other women who called in to the show to share their stories, to speak out. This is the first step to making people aware of the reality and creating some sort of general understanding.

A woman, also in her 50’s and a sufferer of Anorexia since her teens, spoke honestly and openly on the show of how the Anorexic voice in her mind is stronger than her love for her four children. It is completely unfathomable to a non-sufferer but it is the brutal truth.

Just as a sufferer of alcohol or drug abuse can overcome their addiction but it will still stay with them, lurking in wait of an opportunity to show up again, a knock back in life, a moment of weakness, Anorexia is the same. It never goes away, it can be overcome, but there is always a chance that the sufferer will resort to those same coping mechanisms (starvation) again, giving the illness the power to manifest again.

People do make full recoveries from Anorexia and live a life free from the illness, but it doesn’t just disappear. Anorexia can affect anyone, any age. It isn’t just a fad and it isn’t going away.

World Mental Health Day 2013

Opinion

Happy World Mental Health Day. It may seem like an unfortunate use of words to associate with mental health, but I believe that today is a positive thing. Mental health should be addressed, people should be talking about it and today should encourage more people to open up about their own experiences.

One in four people every year suffer with some form of mental health illness, but despite this, it has almost always been a taboo issue in the UK. We may have moved on from times when people with mental illnesses were victims of witch-hunts and thrown into jail but still now in the 21st century, society demonstrates a great fear of the unknown and a lack of understanding, which is scary in itself.

Mental health problems can affect anyone; men, women, adolescents and children and can have a dramatic impact on the patient and their family’s lives. In some cases sufferers have to continue to live with the shadow of their illness hanging over them, as despite the fact that half of sufferers are no longer affected after 18 months, society often fails to recognise that people can recover and lead normal lives. This creates more barriers that those inflicted must face and leads to people being deemed unemployable, unsafe and socially unaccepted. A vicious circle.

A survey by Time to Change campaign showed that 66 percent of university students say they have a mental health problem, yet only 0.3 percent would declare it on an application form. There is even evidence to suggest that men are less likely to get treated than women and are therefore three times more likely to commit suicide. This is a fact which saddens me greatly, and hits close to home. Knowing someone who recently took their own life, my views on mental health have been instilled more than ever, and I can’t help feeling, that if only there was no longer this black cloud of shame hanging over the mentally ill, then how many lives could be saved? Campaigning to rid stigma is one way of looking at it, but really we are fighting to save lives. How can that be ignored?

In the NHS Attitudes to Mental Illness Survey Report in 2011, 85 percent of those asked believed that people with a mental illness experience stigma and discrimination. This proves that as a nation we recognise there is a problem, yet still there is no significant change.

There is some hope though. Time to Change, which was set up in 2007, is England’s largest mental health anti-stigma campaign and is funded by Comic Relief, Big Lottery Fund and the British Government. The campaign is aiming to change attitudes and behaviour towards mental health through a variety of techniques, spreading their ‘It’s Time To Talk’ message. Time to Change believe that they have begun to reduce discrimination and improve public attitude towards mental health problems, and this is certainly true. In recent years awareness has greatened, with an increase in TV programs, blogs etc about mental health and more people are starting to speak out. However, it shouldn’t be just the ‘brave’ ones. Talking about mental health should be a normal part of life, just as physical illness is, and there is still a long way to go. It’s Time to Talk, it’s Time to Change.

 

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