7 Ways The Mental Health System Needs to Change

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So you will have noticed that the blog has been extremely empty for the past month. I currently have 11 blog posts in my drafts box, and most of them haven’t even got past the title.

I’ve even tried videoing this particular blog post about 4 times, only to then find that I didn’t have the right software to actually save the edits…

I guess recently I’ve had very fluctuating moods, and with this, I’ve not really been able to find my words. I wake up with the intention to write a post on the way to work, but so far, it just hasn’t happened.

So I’m writing out the transcript for my video, in the hope that this will make it easier. So please excuse my ramblings on.

The things I’ve been wanting to write about have related to Mental Health. Which obviously makes it a lot harder to just sit and get typing – you have to be in a particular frame of mind to be able to talk about something so important and personal. And usually, you need to use your own experiences to put your points across. And contrary to the belief of most millenials, sometimes you just don’t want to share the ins and outs of your life on the internet.

The main thing I want to talk about, is what happens in the mental health system currently, and what actually needs to happen for the services to be improved. 

At the moment, there’s a lot of people talking about it – politicians, the Royal family, fashion bloggers trying to prove their authenticity, 13 Reasons Why came out and suddenly everyone has an experience or an opinion, and it all just seems a little too popular. Which is why, I suppose, I’ve not really had the motivation to talk about it.

It feels very much like mental health is a campaign at the moment; to win over followers or get more votes in the election, and I just feel like the wrong people are talking about it. So I thought I’d share my thoughts on how the system needs to change, from the perspective of someone who’s been there and is still there, and knows the help she wanted but didn’t get.

GPs Need More Training

If you feel like something’s not quite right, typically we’ll all call on the doctors. Booking an appointment, sitting in the waiting room and knowing you’re going to have to talk about mental health with someone you don’t know is pretty daunting. The person will have to take everything you say at face value, so it feels like a lot of pressure to get your point across.

And to make this easier for the sufferer, I think GPs need to be trained in mental health. There’s all these different degrees like counselling, or psychology, but I’m not too sure how much mental health is brought up in the actual medicine degree.

Walking into many doctor’s offices, I have felt immediately uncomfortable, and I’ve forgotten all of the lines I’d rehearsed to try and get my point across; to make someone listen and believe me.

It feels very much like if you cannot get your point across in that initial meeting, you are not going to be taken seriously. And it feels like the GP hasn’t really got much to say about mental health, and they immediately want to pass it onto someone else to deal with.

There’s so much fuss over ‘fighting the stigma’ but I think a lot of the stigma comes from within the GPs office. Walking in and discussing symptoms that aren’t just easy to diagnose as a rash, or a disease, or an infection is extremely difficult – they are chemical imbalances in the brain that take a lot more discussion to realise. And when you’re faced with a GP who doesn’t really know how to deal with that sort of thing, you are immediately given a leaflet, or the Samaritans number. You’ve spent all this time fighting off the symptoms until it all gets too much and you seek professional help, to then be given some paper that you could’ve just printed out from the internet. And that’s if you’re lucky – others will look with a state of disbelief and tell you to come back another day if the symptoms don’t go away.

So if even professionals seem to feel uncomfortable talking about it, how are we supposed to feel comfortable talking about it?

And between the initial appointment and the waiting list you’re inevitably put on, that’s all you have: There’s no call backs,  no help and if you find yourself on a downward spiral, there’s really only so many times you can go back to the doctors to tell them everything you need to really tell a mental health professional.

GPs are more likely to blame it on hormones whilst you’re growing up, stress at work, not sleeping well etc. And in fairness, there’s so many reasons why you could be feeling not yourself.  But because of this, even if something is really wrong, you really have to fight to get your point across a good few times before they think ‘right something isn’t quite right here’.

What Do You Want to Get From Today? 

My biggest hate about booking that doctors appointment is that at the end of it, they’ll ask you ‘What do you want to get from today?’ – Like you went in with a list of objectives.

This is the thing I absolutely hate. It’s extremely de-valuing for the person and how they’re feeling, embarrassing and makes you feel pretty stupid for trying. It feels like you’re not being taken seriously.

If I walked into a doctor’s office with flu-like symptoms, I wouldn’t be asked what I wanted to do about it. I’d be given the correct medicines and sent on my way to lay around like a snot box for a week or so until I’m better. But if I walk in with mental illness symptoms, I’m asked what I want.  Which for anyone one with terrible decision making skills like myself,  I literally cry when I can’t decide what food to eat asking me what I want to do about anything is just too much.

You’re put in a position where if you say anything like wanting medication, or a counsellor, or a rehab, you’re going to give the impression that you’ve already diagnosed yourself and you’ve done the research and you’ve walked into the doctors with a serious motive. And that’s the last impression you want to give. If it seems like you’re already diagnosing yourself, you’ll again not be taken very seriously.

Instead of asking what we want, we need to be told what is going to happen: We need a professional to let us know that they believe us, trust us and to tell us what is going to happen next, and how you are going to help us.

Self Help Sheets 

When you visit the doctor about this sort of thing, you are bound to be given a self help sheet.

The sheets have definitely been written by a psychologist who has studied the subject at University and has never really experienced the symptoms themselves.

Breathing techniques don’t necessarily help anyone with a mood or personality disorder.
Eating healthily isn’t a simple step for anyone with an eating disorder.
And whether or not exercising could help alleviate Anxiety, the idea of being outside to exercise in front of everything, feeling judged is extremely difficult.

These sheets need to accept that things aren’t as simple as eat healthy, get some sleep, and take some deep breaths. Sometimes, what will actually make you feel better is staying in bed and stuff your face with chocolate. If we are going to have self-help sheets, they need to be written by someone who has been in that position; who understands what’s simple and what’s not.

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I know plenty of people who have to look after their girlfriends or boyfriends, parents or friends who suffer with mental health illness and those are the sort of people who would be much better at writing these self-help sheets; rather than someone who studied the topic from a textbook.

Alternatively, the sheets could be provided by people suffering, and from someone who is still in the system. It isn’t a cure leaflet or an instruction pamphlet; it’s a survival leaflet for many people.

Waiting Lists Are Probably Causing Suicide 

This is something that some people will find profound, but for me, I really think this is a major issue.

Once you get onto a waiting list, you’ll receive a letter or a phonecall to confirm whether you still want their help. And you’ll be told ‘it is not uncommon to not hear from us for a few months’ and that’s it: You’re now just a digit on a list that could be a million people long. There’s no calls, checking in or updating you, you just have to wait for your turn.

You might get a call asking if you to book a counselling appointment a year later when the sun is shining and you’re feeling amazing, and you think to yourself ‘you know what? I don’t need this anymore, I’m feeling great! And that’s that. The next day, you could be back down the rabbit hole at the lowest low but you’ve missed your chance.

A lot of people who suffer from mental health issues already feel like a burden. We don’t necessarily open up as much as we should, or ask for the help we need. We are constantly cautious of how we will affect other people and will persuade ourselves that nobody cares.

So to be left to simmer for a good few months, with no contact whatsoever, it’s easy to get into the mindset of self-loathing. It’s easy to think if professionals can’t even care, why should I? Why should I even be here? I’m just burdening everyone.

A lot of people hate those who self harm, because it’s attention seeking. But what do you expect? You’re literally left with nobody to talk to and the only real way you’re taken seriously is if you act irrationally.

Personally, I’ve never self-harmed. And I never intend to, but I do have sympathy for the people who do.

In dark times, I’ve really felt alone. Like absolutely nobody gives a crap and nobody is taking me as seriously as I want them to. You do contemplate extreme things that would maybe catch someone’s attention in the hope that people begin to realise that you’re serious.
My idea was always running away. Or throwing things at walls. If I could just do something to show people the real feelings inside me. If I just do something extreme or concerning, maybe someone will listen or help. And that’s what I think a lot of people think. And I think that’s why so many people self-harm or have suicidal thoughts.

In between the waiting list confirmation and actually getting your appointment, you’re left totally alone and disregarded. Like one of those friends who doesn’t remember you exist until you’re in the same room…

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I understand that there is a lot of funding that needs to be raised for the NHS and the Mental Health system, but how much would it really cost to give people a half way call? Just a 10 minute conversation from time to time to check up on them, let us know that they’re still there for us.

It would help with monitoring people symptoms, too. Especially for mood disorders – there needs to be something in place to say ‘I’m glad you’re feeling good today, but I’m still going to book you in for the session’ as when you are so high, it’s very easy to forget that you were ever down and will truly believe that you will never be low ever again. Until the next day, of course.

Even if there was some sort of Volunteer group that could work with the department to call everyone after their initial referral just to say hi and let us know that we are still in the list and any updates on when our assessment might be.

Self Help Groups… In the Evening

Each district will no doubt have its own self-help group system, which invites sufferers on the waiting list to take part in group sessions for stress management, or DBT or just to share their stories. But all these sessions seem to be during the day.

During my CBT sessions, I had to take off 2 hours a week during the working day to travel and take part in the 1-1 session. That’s 2 hours of pay deducted every week.
Similarly, my friend is currently having to work extra hours to make up for times she missed whilst taking part in a stress management course.
It’s almost as if Mental Illness is expected to be something just unemployed people deal with.
But we should all be able to have access to multiple groups, to meet other people like us, without actually having to miss work or skip other engagements. For anyone who doesn’t let their health come in the way of their work, we shouldn’t have to be put in a position where we have to tell our bosses that we need time off for a self-help group.

So I think this really needs to change: Make self-help groups accessible for everyone so that it’s easier to get the help we need. 

Chance to Say Our Story 

Once you do get to the assessment, you’ll be asked a number of extremely generic questions, which will no doubt try relate everything back to your childhood. Because if you had a good childhood, how could you possible end up like this, right?

Wrong.

I’ve had the ‘what was your childhood like?’ question way too many times, and it’s totally counterproductive to waste my time talking about my cute little childhood of playing with Bratz dolls and eating giant lollipops.

What I really want to talk about is the now; how I feel, how I react, important moments for my journey, how my family see me, how I react to things.

We need a chance in the assessment to really talk about what’s going on in our heads, and a static question sheet doesn’t allow this. I’ve been to so many assessments where I’ve had a number of things I want to talk about – from bad dreams, to flashbacks, to mood swings – and I’ve never really had the chance to talk about them. IMG_2757

 Training For Loved Ones 

The last thing is where I really think the NHS has missed a trick.

Self-help sheets, groups and therapy are all based on how we can deal with ourselves. Like we are the problem and we have to solve it alone. But there’s nothing around that helps our families understand, or advice on how to handle us at our worst.

My mood swings frustrate a lot of people, but with a little training, it’s nothing that couldn’t be handled well. Sometimes all we actually need is for our loved ones to understand what we’re thinking, or why we’re reacting the way we are.

We need them to know that sometimes we’re not going to be as happy as them, or we might react differently to things, or might lack confidence one day and feel invincible the next day. And it’s this inconsistency that would be much more easier to handle if they could see it coming.

And it would only take a few hours one evening to give our friends and family the techniques and advice that they need or are looking for.

And with this training, there’d be a lot less strain on the NHS and the Mental Health system, because people wouldn’t feel so alone; we wouldn’t need to go back to the doctors every time our Depression flares up like a rash or our Anxiety stops us from working. We’d be able to get through it, and so would our families. IMG_3569

I think that’s everything I need to say. Mental Health isn’t a campaign. It isn’t something to help you get likes on a photo, or votes in your constituency. It’s not a fashion trend, or millenial problem; it’s a real thing: A thing that needs to be taken as seriously as Cancer or other life limiting illnesses. And to help those people in need, there needs to be a huge upheaval of how things are done.

It’s no longer a case of just getting us to talk, because maybe we’re already doing everything we think we can. Anyone who suffers from mental illness will have had plenty of doors shut on them and will have been left feeling alone, stressed and worthless. It’s not just our problem to solve; it’s not just us that need to learn how to cope. It’s everyone else; GPs, families, friends. Everyone has a part to play, and educating people isn’t the only thing that needs to change.

I hope at least a few people agree, or perhaps you’ve had better experiences in the system. Either way, I know that a lot needs to change, and a lot more can be done to help everyone.

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