Losing It: Our NHS on Mental Health

We all have mental health. We don’t all have a mental illness. we have not all experienced a mental health crisis. Sometimes you hear people talking, especially online, about how they had a crisis and sometimes I wonder if the term “mental health crisis” has become somewhat watered down and overused, much like the term “trauma”. Many now refer to trauma for anything a bit significant and overwhelming. The problem with this is that the reality and severity of trauma and mental health crisis become diluted the more they are overused or, alternatively, used out of context. This is why, although difficult viewing, I was really relieved when I saw ‘Losing It: Our Mental Health Emergency” listed on 4OD.

The show follows patients through a mental health trust in Nottinghamshire and shines a light on the extremes, the harsh, petrifying and heartbreaking reality of a mental health crisis. In episode 1 we met Laura and Briena. Laura was experiencing her first-ever episode of mental ill-health and was detained on Section 2 for post-partum psychosis – her illness nearly cost the lives of her entire family. Laura was super compliant with treatment in order to get better, however, experienced variations in her mood and energy states, which highlighted the subtlety that psychosis can have: the conviction in delusional thoughts, the not wanting to rest and agitation, the deadish eyes in a family photo that in hindsight give Laura a glimpse into how unwell she was, “I don’t particularly like this one behind me because I think you can see in my eyes that I’m still ill”.

Once she is well, she reflects on the experience and she really hit home. Having come out of a crisis and hospital admission, “we will never be the same people as we were before that day because of what I tried to do but it doesn’t make me feel any better by crying over it…I still regret it and I still live with the guilt” Reflecting she recalls how the realisation of how unwell you’ve been once you’ve recovered from an episode can be harder than being ill, “it’s mad how when you’re ill you don’t realise how serious it is, and then when you come out of it, it hits you even harder …it’s crazy how much… its just kind of come back”.

We are also introduced to Briena, an 11-year-old with deeply disturbing suicidal and intrusive thoughts. She sometimes struggles to articulate herself and has panic attacks so severe she looks to be in real agony. It’s heartbreaking and painful to watch. You can’t even imagine how her parents feel watching their daughter in so much pain and being essentially helpless.

The world of mental health has changed dramatically in the last decade, heck it has changed beyond recognition and even in the last 5 years everything just keeps changing. This can make navigating the system and services out there difficult. It can be more difficult when more people ask for help, because all of our campaigning has worked in de-stigmatising mental illness and mental health difficulties. Unfortunately, the system isn’t prepared for this influx of pleas for help, and so it is, in the words of my social worker yesterday, “they’re changing the system to be more streamlined, so people come in and go out very quickly in order to deal with the influx of need”. I’m sceptical; this sounds like a false economy, where people go in to the system at crisis point and come out just as quickly without the longer term input and support that helps people to get and stay well, “gone are the days when we could support someone for years, we just can’t now. We’re really looking at months”

With this new system I haven’t had a care coordinator allocated to me and I’m one of 70 in my team to have a named professional. This is apparently the worst it has ever been. I have now been told that I won’t be allocated someone new and will instead be discharged because I haven’t had a crisis for a while and although I still need medication adjustments and tweaks about twice a year, I am quite frankly not a priority. I understand this, and in hindsight despite being petrified for the future, I am so grateful I got unwell before Tory policies came into effect because a lot of the treatment and support I’ve had, the very treatment and support that has helped me to get to this point of relative stability and resilience is no longer available. So even though we have reduced the stigma of being open about mental health, and in asking for help we still have a lot more work to do in order to make sure the help and support is available to people who need it.

This is no longer a battle. This is a war. People have lost their lives, and more people will – and that’s just not acceptable. No one should be left alone to end it because the support isn’t there. I think the place to make the biggest impact is perhaps to contribute towards the charity sector who are plugging a lot of gaps as best they can – and maybe people of power with a real ability to influence legislation and funding, or perhaps help set up practical services beyond signposting to the Samaritans or an online chat forum would be good. There’s a lot of talking and celebrity endorsement going on, but for the people on the ground without privilege, where are they going to turn when they can’t get the help they need from the NHS? For as well intentioned as it has been , we have perhaps missed the mark in the context of this political fuckery we are currently in.

Losing It is a great documentary opening the doors to providing a platform for people in crisis talk about what they’re going through, but without real action and funding, it seems you have to nearly die or kill someone to get help – and if you ask me, that’s just too risky a system. I don’t have the answers, I’m just a bit petrified for my own situation and for those who have it much worse than me any time from 2017 and into the foreseeable future. We’re talking, but the conversation is bleak.

Let’s Talk: World Mental Health Day

Yesterday, the 10th October, was World Mental Health Day. Oh how that snuck up on me this year? I dare say I am guilty of being so self-absorbed that I totally forgot. For someone with their head very much in the mental health bubble, online and offline, I totally missed its presence on the horizon.

I suppose this could be seen as a good sign. A good sign that for once my life isn’t revolved around mental health activities and mental health events and mental health awareness and mental health appointments and mental health illness and mental health woes and mental health anything, everything, and submersion until myself and my life are drowning in mental health this and that. It means that my life is moving on and becoming more than my mental health difficulties: which is brilliant. That hasn’t really happened for me perhaps ever. It’s nice. I’m enjoying myself.

However, that doesn’t mean that I ignore World Mental Health Day. Nope. It is important because for every single person who is in a position like I find myself this year, getting on with life with little thought towards their illness other than remembering to take their meds each day, is someone else who is like I was 1 year ago, 2 years ago, 6 years ago.

There are people stuck trying to navigate building a life beyond hospitals and appointments and meds. There are people who have been winded by the blow of mental ill-health who have absolutely no idea how to do anything anymore. There are people for whom making it to the toilet is an achievement, for whom showering is an insurmountable task, who may be stuck on the carousel of going in and out hospital wards. There are working people who are feeling unable to speak up whilst they stuff it all back inside themselves, far far away from the surface of their existence. There are people sat in class who can’t even speak up when their name is called in the register.

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There are hundreds and thousands of people motioning forwards in silence of the pain they face each day from their mental health. There are the ones who need to stay strong for others and in doing so neglect their own needs, those who are ashamed to be feeling how they are because of ought to’s and should’s that can quite frankly, go and fuck themselves. No one has the right to tell you how you should be feeling or thinking or living your life.

I could go on all day about all the millions of people who need help that don’t get it, who are receiving help and still struggling, and who stuff it all into the depth of their distant psyche to try to crack on with each day.

It is for those people that we need World Mental Health Day. You are not alone. I think the online world shows that more than ever. Talking about mental health doesn’t need to be a negative experience; you could offload or share the good stuff that you’ve found that helps you. You don’t need a diagnosis to talk about mental health because, and i’m going to go down that old cliché track, we all have mental health just as we all have physical health. We talk about how much it sucks to have a cough or common cold, lets talk just as much about how much it sucks to be anxious, or feeling a bit off emotionally too.

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Go on. Pop the kettle on. Have a brew. Have a chat, have a cigarette if you fancy it, have some herbal tea if you fancy that and let’s just be available for each other so that we can all feel supported no matter how difficult it feels, or how difficult our mental health difficulties make us. Let’s be open and embrace that yes it happens, yes it’s OK for it to happen and no, it’s not taboo.

I promise, if you tell me you’re feeling pretty shit maybe depressed, maybe not depressed I’m not going to start fidgeting with my jumper cuffs in an awkward way as if you just told me you’re sleeping with my brother and here, check out my tits whilst I’m at it. I won’t look at you, or into the distance between us as if you just did that because mental health isn’t shocking, whereas talking to me as if you just did the aforementioned would be a bit, well, uncomfortable.