My Experience Of Mental Illness And The Mental Health System

Note: I originally wrote this blog earlier this year for The Huffington Post. Unfortunately it wasn’t approved and published, perhaps because of the somewhat sensitive content contained within.

Trigger warning: This article contains descriptions of self-harm and suicide.

The term “mental health” is bandied about a lot these days. It’s almost as if it’s become the latest must have trend amongst those that spend their time in the public eye. You’ll often see stories about those celebrities that have admitted to having been suffering with some of mental illness and how incredibly brave they are for having done so. Indeed, it does take a certain amount of guts to admit to something like that if your every move is being recorded and judged by the tabloids. But then if you’re famous enough for the gutter-press to care about you then you’ve probably got the ability to secure yourself a few months out of the spotlight without taking any significant knocks financially – as well as some of the best therapy that your celebrity wealth can buy.

For those of us who aren’t in the celebrity spotlight though things are very different. I’m one of those people. I’m 38-years-old, male and I suffer from depression and anxiety with bipolar tendencies – and over the past year, my illness has completely taken over my life.

That’s not to say it wasn’t an issue before. Far from it. I’ve been in a recurring battle against my mental illnesses since my early twenties. But I’d always been able to manage it without too many problems. But about a year ago something inside of me just snapped and I spiralled very quickly and without warning into a full-on mental meltdown.

Naturally, I did the only logical thing at that point. I went to see a doctor and explained what had happened. This particular doctor barely looked up from tapping away at her computer while I was speaking to her and when she eventually did she gave me a sick note for two weeks and sent me on my way. Not exactly the resolution that I was expecting but perhaps a break from work would be beneficial to me. I worked in business to business telemarketing back then – a notoriously stressful job but one that I had always enjoyed the challenge of.

Two weeks passed and I returned to work. But something wasn’t right. I couldn’t focus on anything. My mind felt completely numb. I didn’t feel sad or angry or upset. I just felt disconnected. Kind of like my body was sat there at my desk but my mind was elsewhere. A further trip to the doctor resulted in another 5 minutes of keyboard tapping and another few weeks off of work but no firm solution to the way I was feeling.

It was at this point that I asked whether I should be referred to the local mental health team, to which the answer was a resounding “No.” “You don’t need them” I was told.

A few weeks later I began to self-harm. Scratching and cutting my forearms to shreds. I’m not really sure why I started doing it. Anger I suppose. Frustration at myself. Frustration at the lack of help and support. Every day I would do it. Scratching away until I was red-raw. It was the only time that I felt anything. The rest of the time I still just felt numb.

By this time I had changed doctors. This particular GP had a completely different approach and referred me to the local mental health team, who arranged for me to be assessed. I had also begun a course of one on one counselling with Mind and had been classified as having “Limited capability for work” by the DWP. I wasn’t at work at all now. Despite still technically having a full time job. My GP was keeping me off of work month after month for my own good. I wasn’t earning anything from them other than SSP and a variable amount of Universal Credit was helping to keep me afloat.

Following my assessment with the mental health team, which rather bizarrely took place in a meeting room at my local civic hall, I was prescribed much stronger anti-depressant tablets as well as anti-psychotic tablets to try and stem the self-harm aspect of my illness. I was also told once again not to work.

Things by then had taken a much darker turn though. I had gone from self-harming to feeling regularly suicidal. In my mind I would often fantasize about the ways in which I could put an end to all the pain and worthlessness I was feeling. I thought about crashing my car at high speed, or flinging myself off of a bridge into rush hour traffic. At one point, when the thoughts were becoming more and more frequent and I found myself with a meat knife in front of me and with tears of frustration pouring down my face, I called the Samaritans, who talked me down and as far as I’m concerned probably saved my life.

But things should never have got to that stage in the first place.

The problem is that mental health services in this country are extremely limited. For example, where I live in Wiltshire there is no counselling service available on the NHS. I ended up having to source my own help through my local branch of Mind. I was offered access to my local IAPT service, but they only offer a limited range of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy courses. They’re not suitable for everyone and certainly aren’t suitable for me. It’s almost like they’ve tried to come up with a “One size fits all” approach to dealing with mental health patients. A box ticking exercise if you will. But you cannot lump us all in together. Each and every mental health patient in this country has their own individual issues and as such should be treated on an individual basis.

I am of the opinion that each and every GP surgery in the UK should have its own dedicated mental health specialist. A designated doctor or nurse that has a good understanding of the issues that those patients are having to deal with. Somebody who can actually take the time to sit down and listen to each patient and diagnose and prescribe accordingly. With mental illness and mental health issues in general becoming more and more prominent within our society these days, it’s imperative that they’re being given the correct amount of attention and funding to make them effective.

At the moment, that sadly just isn’t the case.

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