I've not written much for Huff Post lately, my health hasn't been great and I've struggled to find the words. I decided however, that it was worth jotting down some thoughts about mental health care in the UK at the moment. First up though, a bit of background. I've battled depression, anxiety and OCD for over 30 years. About four years ago I had a breakdown and I've been in treatment ever since. It took a lot of courage to finally go to a doctor and ask for help after suffering alone and in silence for so long. I ended up being referred for therapy, filled in a questionnaire that asked a variety of questions about my mood and my state of mind and even directly asked 'if I felt suicidal or wanted to hurt myself.' I answered 'yes, every day' to that question so you can imagine my surprise when I was told I'd be put on a nine month waiting list to talk to someone.
Well that was four years ago and I thought it worth looking at how things had changed after another four years of austerity and cuts to mental health services. I did eventually get that first lot of therapy but not with an OCD specialist. Apparently there used to be one in my area but his job went in the first round of cutbacks after the Tories took power. I've still not actually had any direct OCD treatment despite it being absolutely crippling in the way it affects my life. I have managed to work my way through various waiting lists and had a couple of different types of therapy but things have come to a head in the last six months and in reality my condition has worsened. It's becoming clear that all the medication in the world isn't going to address some of the childhood trauma I've experienced and as such I was referred for Psychotherapy. It was tough leaving my old therapist because having a weekly appointment is in itself is a wonderful treatment tool. Just knowing you are only ever a few days from being able to talk to someone, can be what gets you through some of the darker times. I agreed it was time to try the next thing though and despite going through a very difficult spell where I was contemplating suicide on a daily basis, I agreed to change my type of therapy.
I'll be honest, perhaps naively given my experiences, I assumed I'd just switch therapists. Nope, I'm now on a year long waiting list for Psychotherapy. A YEAR! It's utterly terrifying that there are times when the waiting list only gets shorter because other patients kill themselves. And I totally get it, I'm really lucky, I have a great support network with parents that care for me and people that help in any way that they can. Not everyone is so fortunate though and it's so easy to see how people fall through the cracks. How can someone who is suicidal be 12 months away from getting to talk to someone about it? I received a letter from the NHS last month, apologising for the fact I had to wait six weeks to get a cardiologist appointment. How can there be such disparity in the way mental and physical health are treated in this country? And don't for one minute think I blame the NHS for this, they work absolute miracles with increasingly limited resources. It's not simply about better funding for mental health care in this country. It's the need for a major shift in attitudes towards mental illness. Why, when cuts are needed, is it so much easier to further decimate mental health services? Why is this more palatable, both for politicians but for the general public? My hereditary heart condition may one day kill me but I'm willing to wager that the risk of suicide would do it a lot sooner.
I worry so much about the strain the NHS is under but I worry so much more about myself and the others in my position. I recently came off my antidepressants as they were causing some difficult side effects. I talked it through with my psychiatrist and we decide to monitor the situation and discuss it when I next saw her. Four years ago I was able to see her every couple of weeks. Now the next appointment I could get was 7 weeks away. That's simply unacceptable for a suicide risk who is making changes to their medication. But what can you do? Every person my psychiatrist sees is as critical as I am. It's obscene that we are gambling with so many people's lives. Suicide remains the biggest killer of young men in this country. One in four people will affected by a mental health issue in their lives. It's about time we started treating it as the priority that it is.
Useful websites and helplines:
- Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill.)
- Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393
- Get Connected is a free advice service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- HopeLine runs a confidential advice helpline if you are a young person at risk of suicide or are worried about a young person at risk of suicide. Mon-Fri 10-5pm and 7pm-10pm. Weekends 2pm-5pm on 0800 068 41 41