It's mental health awareness week, and whilst the country is still reeling from the election shock, there has never been a better time to raise awareness of mental health.
In the months leading up to the election, we have seen a new wave of support for mental health. Whilst there was a setback following the German wings plane crash, media has begun to take a more proactive stance towards mental health and all of the political parties made pledges in their manifestos. However, public understanding still remains very divided and this is an area, which seriously needs addressing with stigma providing a significant barrier to getting help, recovery and sustaining recovery.
Stigma, however is not the only challenge facing the enormous problem of mental health. We know that this is an area of the health service, which has suffered the most as a result of the NHS restructures, and particularly with cuts to CAMHS. It is an area of the NHS which doesn't just need money to replenish the services which have been cut, but needs investment to progress past the cuts, because it has received no type of large scale investment for decades. The Liberal Democrats were promising £3.5bn of funding towards mental health services. As a service user, I still felt this not to be enough, but we have to start somewhere. I only hope that the Conservatives can find room in the budget to find this kind of money. Otherwise they will risk significant strains elsewhere.
One of the political messages coming out of the election was accountability. There was a message that indicated that people can thrive with the right tools. As a sufferer, I know too well how much of a struggle this is. I am a highly capable individual who is able to hold down a full time job, and study part time. However, I have my bad days, and on my bad days I really struggle. Thankfully I'm having fewer days like this, and have become better at using the coping mechanisms from my therapy to work through these difficult days. But, my therapy was private. I couldn't get NHS treatment, because the budget was so stretched. I was very ill, and still I couldn't see the professionals I needed. Others would not be able to afford the team I saw, and the consequences if they had seen no-one could have been severe. I was desperate to recover at the time, and felt so let down by the lack of opportunity to recover available to me. I was indirectly being told to get iller in order to get the treatment I needed, and that wasn't right.
The second part of this political message is regarding accountability. I've been able to take steps towards recovery thanks to having the treatment team in place. However, I did not choose illness in the first place. Many people assume eating disorders, and any mental illness is something you choose, something that you can easily give up, in some instances a diet gone wrong, or a selfish behaviour used to get attention. This is not the case, and there are so many reasons why a person becomes mentally unwell. For some, it might be the response to a highly traumatic event, for others pregnancy or others a response to going through adolescence. Sometimes mental illnesses are genetic or biological.
Often mental illnesses are coping mechanisms at dealing with difficult emotions or stressful situations. They are the symptoms of an underlying problem. As the sufferer explores their illness in more depth, they will realise that these are not solutions to their illness.
The theme for mental health awareness week is mindfulness and this is now being commonly used in treatment for a variety of physical and mental illnesses. In my eating disorder treatment I have used elements of mindful practice; DBT where I have focused on acknowledging uncomfortable feelings and working through this to find solutions. Mindful meditation build on this, as it works on being and being present, rather than jumping between future worries based on past experiences. I am very prone to catasrophising and mindfulness has been so helpful when a stressful experience happens. Just some simple solutions such as being aware of why my jeans felt tighter the other day and problem solving, breathing rather than panicking and allowing my eating disorder behaviours to creep in are helping me to work through my eating disorder. It's not perfect but it's a start.
Remember, now is a great time to make an impact. Your MPs are new and fresh-faced. Why not drop them an email or letter to encourage action on mental health and remind them of the promises made.