Author: Ian Morgan
Read Time: 7-8 minutes, 988 words
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Mental Health Awareness Week has just passed and with it came a glut of posts on my Facebook and Twitter feeds from well meaning people of all genders and ages stating that we need to shatter the stigma around talking about mental health and convince people to talk about their issues and seek help. Often these statements were followed with the hashtag of, #itsoktonotbeok. Whilst I obviously agree with the sentiments of these messages and believe the sincerity of those who were sharing them, my feelings on the subject is that the stigma, at least amongst my peer group, has been shattered, but the issues lie with the actual access to help. Of course, it is excellent that people are supporting one another and offering an ear and to help in any way they can to those that are struggling. However, deep seated mental health issues often require specialised help from medical professionals.
I questioned my qualifications in writing this article, having never suffered from mental health issues myself, however, I decided that given my vast experience of living with someone who was/is Bi-Polar and had/has alcohol dependency issues, I would hopefully do it justice. As I'm sure most people know, Bi-Polar disorder, formally Manic Depression, is characterised by bouts of horrific crushing depression and conversely, periods of extreme highs or mania. Medication can be taken to balance these extremes out and hopefully level the sufferer's mood, however, these often have terrible side effects, or the sufferer feels they are not working and simply stops taking them causing serious issues. The manic stage is often plagued with reckless behaviour, disregard for health and safety, excessive spending and drinking and partying for days at a time. The depressive stage is completely different, but often even worse, with the sufferer being unable to get out of bed, even to eat or wash. Suicidal thoughts and actions can often be prevalent at this stage. It is a truly horrible disease and without the right medication, counselling or Cognitive Behavioural Therapeutic help, it can be completely debilitating and destructive to the sufferer.
When I was living with my ex-partner and trying to get her some help during a particularly devastating depressive period, I was met with brick wall after brick wall. Now, before I go any further, I certainly do not want this to be some kind of Tory attack on the NHS, who do a fantastic job, and is the envy of many countries around the world. Indeed, I was singing the praises of our greatest institution only yesterday when an ear infection had me calling my local GP where I swiftly got an appointment, and a subsequent subscription that I picked up absolutely free of charge 30 minutes later. So, for clarity, NHS good. Free health care; good.
However, where the aforementioned anecdote shows just how slick the system can be for physical ailments, from experience, I believe that the process for dealing with mental health issues, also needs to be streamlined. I'm not so naive to believe that the obvious diagnosing and treating of an infection does not completely correlate with the far more complex process of diagnosing a mental health issue and trying to establish the best course of treatment. But there should never be a situation where a person is phoning for help, literally having to physically restrain someone from committing suicide only to be met with the only option of therapy appointments set months in the future or the advice to continue taking medication that clearly isn't working. The utter helplessness I felt in those moments and the complete lack of any idea of what to do was truly terrifying. Not to mention the personal hell that she was going through at the same time.
I'm sure that there are numerous organisations out there that offer support in these circumstances, that I could have possibly have turned to, but when you are in the middle of a crisis, your brain always goes to what you are told from an early age. If you are sick, you phone the doctor. To be told that there is nothing they can do crushes those childlike expectations and makes you feel as helpless as you did as a child when you had to rely on everyone else.
Whilst this story doesn't have a traditional happy ending, eventually, after being detained under the mental health act, she did get the help she needed, the help that I could not give her. Things should never have been allowed to get to that stage, there must be a better way to help people. It is ok to not be ok, but only if we are able to provide people with the support that they need. The therapy they require, in actual therapeutic environments, not sparsely furnished rooms with uncomfortable plastic chairs and flaking yellow paint work. The medications, selected specifically for the patient, relating to the illness they have been diagnosed for, not simply given anti-depressants to everyone, regardless of if they have depression, anxiety, Bi-Polar, BLPD, OCD, whatever the ailment.
With the recent death of Frightened Rabbit singer, Scott Hutchison, the latest high profile example of how we are failing people, and that platitudes about offering support to your fellow man are well-meaning, but what we really need to be doing is taking political action to push for changes in how mental health issues are processed. There is a high probability that in the future each and every one of us, will one day suffer from a mental health illness, or have done in the past. We need to be the change. We need to fix the roof while the sun is shining for us. We need to push for change. We need to make sure that no one feels completely isolated and alone ever again. There is always money for wars, so they must have money available to help those amongst us who need it.
Ian Morgan is on Twitter: @IanMorganFBC