I have to say that I am impressed with the coverage that mental health is getting on the television lately. BBC 3 inparticular have been very active in showing a range of documentaries that show the range of people that mental health can effect. From celebrities to teenagers. Mental illness like any physical illness can affect anyone no matter what their circumstances. And yet it is still so taboo, so misunderstood. It's a dirty secret that gets swept under the carpet because it doesn't comply with the image of being 'capable.' But like with chronic illness how can anyone begin to understand it or understand someone that suffers from any form of mental health issue if it is ignored? I hasten to use the words to see mental illness in a good light because mental illness is a dark dark place. Perhaps what I mean is that these documentaries and the accounts of people that have suffered from a mental illness show the strong people behind these conditions. They show that they are 'normal'. That they are people not an illness and that through all the horrors that they face from the condition or in getting help they are strong and determined.
Recently I spoke to another ME and Fibromyalgia sufferer about how people often forget that we are more than an illness. We are still people. People with interests and passions, curiosities and complexities. We don't just suddenly stop being a person once we become ill and just become a hospital number. If anything we need things to hold onto even more. We certainly don't want to be sick, we want to relinquish the lives we had before or try to forge new memories and achievements.
And this is exactly the same for those with a mental illness. Only the biggest battle is with your own head. Part of you can say yes I'm going to live my life whilst the other slams that thought down at every opportunity. Telling you not to be so stupid that YOU could never do that. It is a betrayal by your own mind. It can be particularly difficult when there is nothing physically wrong. You have the 'ability' to live life but your head says no you can't. With a physical illness people will understand somewhat. Especially where medical evidence is obvious (ahem so not ME/CFS or fibro). But with a mental illness unless you know the signs it's hard to detect by others and the lack of comprehension, taboo and even disgust surrounding it drives it even more undercover.
Not long ago I watch a series on BBC 3 called 'Don't call me crazy' that filmed the daily goings on in a teenage mental health unit and yesterday I watched I watched a documentary called 'failed by the nhs.' The latter was presented by a young man, Jonny Benjamin, who had schiztophobia, a combination of schitzophrenia and depression. Before being diagnosed he had been to his GP and A&E a few times in a manic state and attempted suicide. He had gone there to desperately seek help. Scared that he didn't know what he was going to do. But he never got help. Only tranquilizers. On one occassion luckily his friends took him to A&E but they were asked whether he was simply being 'dramatic' or 'putting it on.' Which lets face it is shocking. Who would want to pretend to want to end their lives?
Unfortunately, Jonny found many more similar cases. It is stated that anyone presenting at A&E with a mental health issue should recieve a psychic evaluation. However many people don't. Even when they have been treated for the physical signs of mental distress such as self harm and even ligature marks. Others have been put straight onto anti depressants without any warning of the potential (and please note that word because different drugs work for different people) side effects. One man was put straight onto 60mg of fluoxitine or prozac as it is also known and the massive chemical overhaul in his body made him even worse. I have had good and bad experiences with fluoxitine. In my late teens it worked well but when I tried it again a few years ago I shook so much I thought I was having a fit. Luckily I knew that something just wasn't right and I was able to see a doctor who changed them and gave me tranquilizers to help me counteract the madness they were causing my body. Consider me lucky or unfortunately knowledgeable about these things.
Luckily any time I went to A&E with massive panic attacks I was able to see a psychiatrist. Although the wait was always long and distressing. A&E units are scary, noisy and manic places. You see you have to wait for a psychiatrist and a psychiatric nurse to become available from the psychiatric ward or unit. But understand this as in all wards at night there is only basic cover. Don't quote me on this but I'm sure there is only one psychiatrist on night shift, that is at the hospital I was at. So as you can imagine you can be in for a long wait, in which time your anxiety levels can rocket even more. I too have had doctors at an out of hours service dissmiss me as 'a tablet seeker' or 'young and has no need to be in distress.' Neglecting to even put the visit onto my record as it was 'of no concern.' It makes me angry just thinking about it. It was very very lucky that I knew better despite my added anxiety.
The stories presented in this documentary were shocking. They had basically had to rely on their own resilience to get them through and to find something within themselves that could stand the fight to want to get better. It is truly sad. You go and beg and beg for help because you are at your lowest ebb and often will not recieve it. If you went to A&E with a broken leg, it would be x-rayed and plastered and you would recieve crutches and advice to help you. But there is still such a quandry surrounding mental health (and chronic illness of course, don't worry not forgotten) despite it affecting 1 in 4 people.
Luckily a new act has been passed the health and social care act 2013, which lays out that mental health should be treated as equal to physical health and therefore hopefully it can recieve much more funding. This also gives me hope for chronic illness too. That more can be done to help understand illnesses such as ME/ CFS and Fibromyalgia. A cause. A cure would be bloody lovely.
I understand that so far I may have painted a poor picture of mental health services but there are positives. Like I said fortunately I did get to see a psychiatrist when I went to A&E. I've had some great GP's who actually knew the art of listening. All of which I've laid out in my post "ME and mental health". There are also some great charities who work tirelessly to advocate mental health in a positive light such as MIND and time to talk. When I was first diagnosed with ME I thought I'd really struggle mentally so I went to a local drop in ran by MIND and saw someone straight away. Just talking and expressing my fears was relieving. Unfortunately I never made it back there as sleep took over my life but I'm really grateful to them. So there is help out there. It's just a shame that what we would automatically assume is our first port of call to get help can sometimes be not very helpful at all and unless you know about other services then you can feel completely cut adrift. So spread the word folks. And BBC 3 I salute you.