The 10th October is World Mental Health Day.
Last year I discussed why and how I became a mental health campaigner. This year I want to talk about mental health services. I’ve written posts before about my positive and negative experiences with services, but having been under them again recently I feel that I want to talk about this subject some more.
I have mixed feelings about mental health services, having experienced them from both sides. I am a mental health nurse – I’ve worked in mental health for 9 years. I am also a patient – I’ve been in receipt of services for 15 years. These experiences have lead to me feeling protective over, defensive of, grateful for and disappointed in the mental health care system, for a variety of different reasons.
I feel protective of and defensive over services because I am services. I work in them and I represent them. I, and my colleagues, work incredibly hard to deliver high quality, evidence based and timely care. The reality of the situation however, is that sometimes we can’t. Sometimes there are enormous waiting lists, there are not enough resources and there is a nursing deficit. These are the facts, and they are not our fault. We all understand it’s frustrating and we want to take care of every single person who needs us, but that’s just not how it works. The current economic climate is tough for the NHS, and the government dictate how much money goes where. Unfortunately, as has always been the case, mental health services get the least amount of money. Added to that is the national nursing crisis, again made significantly worse by many of the decisions made under the current government. I could go on but I wont – it’s a topic all of it’s own. What I am trying to say is that although there are bad practitioners outs there – there’s no denying that – most of us are hard working and dedicated and are fighting against a flawed system that we are all trying to make better.
I am grateful for services because they have saved my life on more than one occasion. My inpatient admission as a teenager undoubtedly set me on the right path – a completely different direction to where I was headed which could quite possibly have killed me. My treatment under the community eating disorders team eventually gave me my first real chance at recovery from anorexia after finally giving me the opportunity to explore what function it served for me and how to picture my life without it. My time seeing the community mental health team ultimately led to me receiving a diagnosis of bipolar disorder which meant I suddenly had access to care and medication that had previously not been available to me, and has allowed me to have the most stable three years of my life since that time. Most recently, the incredibly fast response from my local crisis team and the intensive care they offered me meant that I was able to return back to a period of stability quickly and safely. They listened to my preferences and my concerns and got me back on track. For every individual practitioner who got me where I am today, and for every one that will help me in the future, I will always be thankful. We all do a very difficult job, and I know how hard they worked to support me.
I am disappointed in services because not everybody has the same story as me. Not everybody gets the care and support they need, and I feel really sad about that. As much as I do feel protective of and grateful for services, I know waiting lists are too long, services can’t meet everyone’s needs and ultimately, this can and does result in death. People die because they can’t access the right care and treatment, and that breaks my heart. I want everybody to be able to have an ‘I am grateful for mental health services because…’ story, but the reality is that for every person that does, there’s probably another who doesn’t. Also, in addition to how good my care has been at times, at others it’s been awful.
Ultimately, the answer to this is adequately funded services and enough nurses, neither of which we currently have. So, this World Mental Health Day, I hope to still see the hundreds of tweets and blog posts and conversations and social media shares about raising awareness. But I also hope to see change. We still have a long way to go with regards to awareness and mental health stigma. We can keep talking about mental health until we are blue in the face, but we need to see some real differences in how services are run and how people are cared for.
I hope, by World Mental Health Day 2019, that we will be able to reflect on some positive changes that have taken place over the year.
In the meantime, we can only do what we do best. Talk, listen, talk, and listen some more.