“The whole issue of mental health is being taken far more seriously these days. Society is becoming far more aware of the effects of mental ill health and how it impacts on us all. The stigma is being broken down.” Those were, broadly speaking, were the words used on a national radio station this week by ‘an expert in the field’. I don’t know which field he was standing in, but it wasn’t one I have been standing in. I’m afraid I am coming to the conclusion that change is not coming and if anything the situation is getting much worse.
Take the government – please. I am sick to the back teeth of politicians. Not all politicians because there are fine and decent people on both sides of the political divide. However, we have been lied to for many years on the subject of mental health, as with so many other issues. The Conservative government, despite its belated protestations – lies, I call them – that they are increasing the resources for mental health treatment, can be discounted. It’s smoke and mirrors. The truth is unless you are the bloke from Ant and Dec (I get them muddled up because I have never seen them perform on telly) and can afford the best treatment money can buy, mental health is a backwater. Unless you are fit only to be sectioned, treatment can be dependent on a postcode lottery. And as with any lottery, you are almost certain to lose.
I am not the only person who has been propped up for years by various drugs in order to keep me functioning, often at a very basic level, having to wait longer than a year to get treatment that ended with nothing, except more drugs. I know I am not going to get better and for the rest of my life, it will be a question of managing my depression and anxiety. There is nowhere left to go. I am far from alone.
I am lucky in that I have rarely suffered from suicidal thoughts. I have often thought I would be better off dead, but I didn’t want to die. I suspect unless you have been in this wildly contradictory position in life, it will make no sense. I don’t want to live but I don’t want to die. You probably think I am mad. You’re probably right.
The stigma of mental health hangs over anyone who suffers from poor mental health and it is nonsense to suggest otherwise. I have written frequently at the appalling treatment I received from a world renowned humanitarian charity who lacked empathy, sympathy and resorted to bullying and abuse. I was deemed by their occupational therapy officer as being “emotionally weak”. I happen to think I am a bit of a survivor and sometimes I am the world’s strongest man for having got this far. When I left my occupational health appointment, I was made to feel like something unpleasant you found on the bottom of your shoe. I was left to fend for myself, effectively abandoned. I made it all up. Yes, the CEO actually wrote to me and said I’d actually made it all up. If an international humanitarian charity can behave like this, what price a profit-driven company in the private sector. (Full disclosure: I worked in the civil service and for the final 20 years of my career, I was well cared for in the mental health department by brilliant managers and systems that worked.)
My experience is that most people never talk about mental health. Everyone asks the standard, “How are you?” not really wanting a straight answer. Imagine replying, “If you have five minutes, I’ll tell you. I couldn’t sleep properly last night because of anxiety dreams, I am looking through a fog of depression and my legs feel like lead. I just want to go to bed and stay there.” Much easier to say, “Fine, thanks.” These days, I try to be honest. “Still breathing, thanks” or “Been worse”.
Now, increasingly, those with mental illness are lumped into the ‘snowflake’ category, a grievous, abusive, generic form of abuse directed at those perceived to be over-sensitive. Far from getting better, things are getting worse. In our increasingly ugly, divided country, it’s always a good idea, isn’t it, to blame everything on the weak or vulnerable and the mentally ill, who may come into both categories.
We are still in the world where many people regard mental illness as somehow not being an illness at all. It’s still seen as something which you need to “snap out of”, pull yourself together” and to “stop being a snowflake.” And the idea that mental health is being put on the same level as physical health is a very sick joke.
Us mental folk need a world which is strong and stable, not the one which is weak and wobbly. Guess which one we are in?