10th October every year is designated by the World Health Organisation as ‘World Mental Health Day’. This year’s theme is psychological first aid and the support people can provide to those in distress. The WHO claim that unless changes are made, depression will be the world's leading illness in less than 15 years.
I didn’t know that was happening yesterday but I did the usual stuff (like most, like me). I went to work (for a bit) and read my Facebook (for another bit). I read a troubling story that happened on that Mental Day about a friend’s child being harangued in front of classmates, as “looking suicidal” and “mimed shooting themselves in the head”.
I then wound back to my 'incident', and thought I’d try to share how easy some of this stuff can become something that you then have to concern yourself with forever. Because once you’ve had some of that crazy and Winston’s hound has been around, you always fear the scratching front door and remember some of the oddest and most frightening times.
I was working in *high street electrical retailer* shop. Few years back now and although every one of my colleagues thought I was happy and successful I certainly felt neither. My salary was pretty good (if you lived outside London) but the work was shit, the pressure for me to deal with minimum wage colleagues, internal theft (probably likely when you get paid less than minimum wage after staff searches), and a discriminatory recruitment policy was more than I could handle. And the lack of respect from my peers and managers, "What does this odd looking ex- music retailer know, you all go bust don't you?"
I had a week off work, I took my finger away from the all day long emails and got drunk. I got drunk quite a lot, sometimes in pubs and with my friends, but sometimes alone, with the Smiths playing. I was definitely not right, but sometimes you just remember that you get drunk and listen to the Smiths and do that again.
This ended up different.
I went back to work, but felt really invaded, frightened, and oddly enlightened. The night before I’d had a strange, visionary occurrence. In the night, some people had come into my flat in Bow and grafittied my whole bedroom. Top to toe. Was unbelievable, proper mind blowing, even down to the miniature carvings they’d made in my Mac lid and natural floor coverings. Inviting me to further shows in cryptic and undecipherable messages, I was convinced I’d seen something others hadn’t. They even etched their website directly under the key latch, so I could try to check their work out.
At lunch at work, I regaled this with my team. You can imagine the responses, as I asked if any of my workmates knew of this interior street art crew. And then when I flushed the loo and Bollywood tunes played every time, and went back to the staff room and asked who’d heard that.
The next few days were similar, but got worse. One night naked and proper fit women were in the room, while the sole wall mirror hid a secret camera which led through to my neighbouring front room, playing host to a whole film crew. On day three, I spent 12 hours being auditioned for a multi-million pound role in a West End musical (honestly, I know I’m talented enough, don’t say!)
The musical never happened, mainly because we all got trapped in the huge ornamental Pampas grass in my communal garden. The impresario (and her daughter) had enough then. I was distraught and called 999 for the Fire Brigade to rescue her, and my stage career. They came.
I didn’t know they had actually come until later that day, when after walking around Tesco while everyone in the superstore was looking at me I went to the GP on an emergency appointment. I talked with the locum and was sent back home, looked out of the patio doors and saw the plant hacked to the ground and the neighbours shouting at me.
Walking trees. Rapists outside the window threatening my girlfriend. Houseplants that moved from one end of the room to the other while I watched ‘Seven Psychonauts’. Waking up in the morning and the whole flat had flipped 180 degrees so that I had no recognition of the place that had been home for six years.
Anyway, I got signed off for three months. And ended up losing my job, and a fifteen year career in retail. I never saw that sort of thing coming along, maybe others did, but it is pretty difficult to see that when it starts to come over you. After that incident, there was the normal post experience of anxiety and depression.
The NHS support I got was ridiculously poor. No actually, just ridiculous. Anyone reading this who has been through any aspect of this would completely recognise that. My first consultation were phone calls, once a week where I had to answer a series of questions and score myself out of ten on three dozen self-tests. I went to cognitive behavioural therapy sessions, but due to budget restrictions they were held in groups of twenty others. We all had completely different backgrounds, learning, cultures and issues. Trying to find a common therapeutic grounding for all of us was exasperating, especially to the group leaders who were clearly gnashing their teeth at the impossible task they would have to be merited on. I was also asked to go and see a psychological specialist at a hospital of their means, once I’d been approved to do so. This took two months. I was headed back to work by this time, and had what I thought was an informal “how you getting on” type conversation with my boss. My “boss” had left and I had a new stranger to talk this through which became more interrogation, less restoration. As if that really helped me to get better?
Back and too as often as you can on the Government priority for mental health, I travelled to see my specialist every six weeks, while he tried to find the perfect remedy for my ails. He never really did, but he did try, as often as he could do. I thankfully got better, because what I really needed was my people around me to see what had been up with me. And they did that tenfold. Some wouldn’t be so lucky. Suicide is the most common cause of death for men aged 20-49 years in England and Wales at present.
NHS budgets for mental health care fell by 2% last year, and it’s unlikely that will turnaround over the coming years. 29 mental health trusts said their budget will be lower this year, and some would not give that information. Mental health care was promised “parity of esteem” with physical care, but although mental ill-health accounts for 28% of the total burden of disease, it gets just 13% of the NHS’s budget. For most, an early and appropriate intervention and counselling could bring a swift return to health. The drawn out process that I experienced ultimately means some sufferers will see their symptoms exacerbate, putting increased burden on a fragile service. That spiral can see people unable to return to work or education, and then it goes on & on, and too often tragically.
Public attitudes to mental health are significantly improving. It is, for many easier to be honest and not feel stigmatised by their illness. The NHS earlier this year (pre-referendum) published a 'Five Year Forward View' on mental health. The headline policy in this 'view' is the 7 Day NHS currently being hammered through by Jeremy Hunt, a policy vehemently opposed in his current plan by leading health experts, doctors and medical professionals. That's hardly an encouraging keystone for mental health care then. And now, we must envisage a radically restructured NHS. Through the Tories insistence on a ‘hard- Brexit’, more healthcare workers will be removed from our struggling health service both to their disregard, and secondary ours. It will take years to replace anyone in this field, and data from 2014 from Health Education England showed that over 18 per cent of core training posts in psychiatry are currently vacant. Psychiatry has the slowest rate of growth and the highest drop-out rate of any clinical specialty. The 'Five Year View' is clearly not a priority now and can surely not be perceived to be any time soon.
To find out more about the work of the Mental Heath Foundation and mental health advice look HERE.
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