This post contains discussions relating to suicide, self harm and other topics relating to mental illness. If you find any of those topics trigger distressing thoughts and feelings, I would advise not to read further until you feel able to.
Today is World Mental Health Day, a day to raise awareness of the impact mental illness has on thousands, perhaps millions, of people and their families around the globe. Over the last few years mental health has started to be discussed in a way it never has been before. Celebrities and public figures (including prominent members of the British Royal Family) have opened up and shared their struggles with their own mental health with the media. Big companies and corporations have pledged to be more understanding and aware of mental health issues in the workplace. Politicians have discussed the mental health crisis in Parliament and are aware that more needs to be done to prevent children and adolescents in particular from heading into crisis.
I have struggled with mental illness myself. I am more than aware of the stigma attached to being diagnosed with illnesses such as Depression, Anxiety or Bipolar Disorder and I know that this stigma has started to be broken down fairly recently and people are more willing to speak about how they are feeling and reach out to others if they need help. However, the majority of the messages I have seen around today, via social media, television and online news articles, have left me feeling frustrated and sceptical.
It is all well and good posting about how important it is to “speak out and be honest about how you feel”, or that it is “good to talk” and “someone will always be there to listen”, but once you have been brave enough to express your deepest, darkest thoughts what is there to help you get out of the drain? Friends and Family, even though they try to understand and want to be supportive, often don’t know the right advice to give, or the right words to say, particularly if someone is at crisis point or expressing suicidal or self harm urges.
The provision of mental health services in the UK currently is a nightmare. People in dire need of support are on waiting lists for counselling and other initial mental health support services like IAPT for months on end, and that includes charitable counselling and therapy services too! Suicidal people in crisis are being sent home from A&E, waiting days for referrals to Community Mental Health Teams or Home Treatment Teams. Or if they are at such a point where they need inpatient hospital treatment, they are sent miles away from their home to one of the few psychiatric units dotted around the country.
In the Harrogate and District area a few years ago, there were calls to build a new facility, specifically for mental health services, including inpatient units with 36 beds. However, this plan fell through and recently it has been announced that the only NHS run mental health inpatient unit in the area, Briary Wing (which is part of Harrogate District Hospital), is to close in April 2020. Patients who require inpatient services will have to travel to York (where a new 70 bed facility is being built) or even further afield to access the help and support they need. If people with cancer or heart problems were expected to travel miles away from their home and family for hospital treatment, there would most likely be uproar. Why then, is this considered reasonable for someone to do in the midst of a mental health crisis?!
The government and NHS have been backing the recent Every Mind Matters campaign, yet funding for mental health services across the county is still incredibly low considering how vital and in demand they are. Yes, it is important to prevent mental illness as early as possible and to teach coping strategies to avoid getting near crisis point; but for those of us who are already in the thick of it and have spent months and years crying out for longer term, more intensive support for what has become a chronic illness, these small steps, awareness raising and preventative measures won’t be enough.
Long term, intense suicidal thoughts, self harm urges and ingrained low self esteem can’t be overcome with just a friendly chat and a cup of tea. More funding and provision needs to be put into a wide range of mental health services in order to ensure that everyone from all walks of life can access the support they deserve.