I am a lucky man. Depression is my Achilles heel, but my life support are my friends and family. In my most mentally turbulent days I had a stream of support from loved ones. It meant that I was as protected from myself as I could be. It was vitally important to be protected from myself because, for many weeks, I did not trust myself to be alone. I feared the man I saw in the mirror. The reflection gazing back at me was one of loathing and repugnance. The consequence of such disgust was a desire to self harm or die. It was vitally important to have a strong, stable and sincere network surrounding me to battle my demons away. It's unfortunate I still tried to kill myself but I was caught unawares by my own desires on that particular night where darkness (almost) overtook the light.
Amongst this canvass painted with love and care from loved ones comes the mighty brush strokes of the NHS. Ever since I attempted suicide (and way before that incident) the NHS mental health teams have nurtured me, assessed me and supported me. They have been exemplary in their approach. Working wonderfully in partnership with my GP I have experienced the true essence of what makes the National Health Service something to be proud of as a British person. In the midst of criticism, budgeting restrictions and bureaucracy I stand here alive and thankful for the staff I encounter.
To read of the goals of the Mental Health Taskforce, fronted by Mind's CEO Paul Farmer, to massively improve mental health care over the next five years is blessed. One particular sentence in their report was quite striking, 'Even though we know that the right care delivered in the right way at the right time improves and may save lives, mental health care has not benefited from the clear pathways and standards in place for secondary physical health care.' And that's the thing, the pathway to recovery for a mentally ill person can become patchy and muddled. The primary care I have received has been fantastic and I am truly grateful but I recognise how the ongoing treatment can become difficult to maintain.
Speaking with people who have cared for me there is a reluctance to be optimistic about the future of mental health services. I think their reluctance comes from where statistics are monitored more closely than relationships and people become targets. If, people like me, are to remain alive and not another tragedy then it needs to be recognised that life saving comes at the frontline where a professional is simply there to listen to screams, comfort through pain and provide light in the darkness. It's not facts and figures that saved me but the beauty of a kind word.
You see, that's where lives will be saved and suicide rates will hopefully drop, through human interaction and love at its most grittiest level being displayed. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I am lucky, very lucky to have been so wonderfully served by the NHS. They saved my life. Unfortunately there are many people who, through the problems of funding and other bureaucratic idiocies, have not been so lucky. And unfortunately they have also not had the blessings of friends and family to provide comfort in a crisis. If I was living alone in an unknown town, with no friends or family to call it's possible I would not be alive today.
Adequate funding is vital but the battle is truly being fought at grassroots level, where people are able to reach out and hold the hand of a professional whilst they despair at their dark and infernal thoughts. Depression is a lonely illness. Depression makes life seem futile. Those many, many wonderful saints who work in the NHS need to be given the freedom and support to do what they are passionate about - beating mental illness.
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