No one is doing to promote the issue of Mental Health than Radio Five in general, but Adrian Chiles in particular. Chiles presents the excellent “Morning Edition” magazine show and once again today’s show was largely dedicated to mental health. The presenter visited a mental health unit in Liverpool and we heard from staff and patients alike. As a mental person myself, I usually find these shows a tough listen and this was no exception.
The patients were in far worse health than me, some upsettingly so. Some spoke of the voices in their heads, others spoke of self-harming and even suicide. There was even an interview with a girl who had been caring for her mother, who suffered with the illness to a chronic extent, since the age of six. I’ll just say that again: she had been caring for her mother since the age of six. It doesn’t bear thinking about.
And just when I was beginning to think that the stigma of mental illness was lessoning in society, I was soon jolted back into reality. This unit had been successfully built and worked well in treating those with some of the worst conditions imaginable, but when a unit was proposed for another area in the area, some residents campaigned against having “these type of people” in the area. Following one particularly raucous public meeting, the authorities caved in, abandoned their plans and built it elsewhere. What were the locals expecting the patients to be like? Did they assume hordes of basket-weaving people would descend on the neighbourhood, or that people in straitjackets would be propelled round the local park, frightening the children? Because we all do that, don’t we, us mental people. Lock them all up, get them away from me, especially that ugly sod with the big scar on the right side of his face.
I was surprised that NIMBY-ism still existed in such a scale. People with preconceived ideas of what the mentally ill are like, as if most of us are a threat to the community. Most people I know with conditions are a far better threat to themselves.
If there were such people, and I am pretty sure there aren’t, then the health professionals would be angels. They were as much friends to the patients, as well as they were clinicians. It sounded, oddly enough, a cheerful place in which to be depressed.
There were horror stories all over. Some people had become mentally ill after suffering physical accidents, others were essentially going through breakdowns. I was genuinely uplifted for large segments of the show, but desperately depressed at many other parts of it.
We have a government which simply doesn’t give a toss about the subject and to be fair I don’t remember the last government being a whole lot better or the ones before them. Mental health is the Cinderella of ill health. Not enough people understand it, many make no effort to. Some regard it as self-pity or being fed-up. Boy, if only.
Chiles was plainly moved by what he had come across and did a brief ad lib at the end, urging people to come forward to seek help if they felt they were suffering. And he was speaking with the experience of someone who had a partner who had been through it all. I had mixed feelings because it’s not something I really want to listen to, but I feel I have to.
Like I said, it was a tough listen. I had hints of deja vu throughout the show and so much of what others were going through resonated with me. They all had real courage to go on the radio and talk about it, though, and if just one person now seeks help. it will have been an extremely worthwhile programme.