Rarely a day goes by where we don’t hear of how the National Health Service (NHS) is devastatingly failing those who are diagnosed (or misdiagnosed) with a mental health illness. Whether it be a person being admitted and not receiving the right care in immediate circumstances or being put out into the community with delayed follow-up support.
It could be a junior doctor feeling hopeless and at a loss due to the pressure of the job role or a relative struggling with worry after their loved one is moved miles away because that’s the only available bed. It isn’t hard to see why, when talking to people with a passion for raising awareness of mental health, they feel disenfranchised and deprived of what can be so successful in the NHS when receiving the right care for an illness.
Despite a pledge from Prime Minister Theresa May to reform mental health services, as well as support from Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, there is a distinct opinion that what has been announced isn’t enough to save the failing system. While the three-year report from Care Quality Commission highlighted some improvements, it also identified a lack of trained staff and appropriate settings for patients.
And of course, it’s impossible to ignore the wealth of news stories whereby people have been forced to travel hundreds of miles to access services, with Cornwall only just about to receive their first specialist psychiatric unit for children but not until early 2019. Imagine having to deal with your child having a mental illness, being in crisis and you have no choice but to move them to neighbouring counties in an unfamiliar setting to access the right care.
Surely, the change of location itself is another mental hurdle to overcome before getting on the road to recovery? Or imagine being a child with a parent who has a mental illness and there is a clear divide in what you and someone else can access just because of where you live?
Mental health has long had a stigma attached to it which is still a struggle to shake, and it’s an unfortunate everyday occurrence that there are many who aren’t empathic to those in crisis. It’s as if those with a mental illness are not deserving, that they asked for it or are considered in Victorian terms, ‘to be crazy and devoid of any sanity.’ And yet, a huge percentage of us will at some point face a mental illness and will be likely to seek support that will end in being prescribed drugs to treat a mental illness.
There has been a clear increase in the British population of mental illness over the last decade for a multitude of unavoidable reasons, but still, the services appear to be Neanderthal in comparison to what has happened regarding the treatments of other illnesses such as cancer or HIV. Even writing a sentence like that may bring an unfortunate grimace, am I really comparing mental illness to cancer and HIV?
Well, it’s hard to ignore the nearly 6,000 people taking their own lives every year who should be given the right to access care and support instead of being left isolated and alone in mental anguish. Is it not a human right that just because an illness is mental and not physical, that they should not be left to die without intervention?
Thankfully, for those of us who closely lie within the mental health community, awareness has been raised in much-needed circles. This year the London Marathon was headlined by Heads Together, a charity formed to highlight the need to speak up on mental health and has recently pledged more money into awareness after the success of this partnership.
To see members of the British Royal Family speak openly and honestly about their mental demons through grief and loss was a surprise to many and has thankfully helped the number of people coming forward for help increase dramatically in recent months.
However, it’s hard to ignore that the more we come forward and speak openly, the more pressure we put onto a health system that is already buckling under the weight of what it is trying to achieve. It feels, in essence, like a bittersweet triumph – finally, we’re speaking up, but where will people go if they feel compelled to reach out for support in crisis? And at what point will people climb back into their hermit shells and stay silent because they were ignored in their hour of need?
Of course, I am extremely proud of our NHS and all that lies within it. We are so blessed and fortunate to have a system that allows every single person to access care without discrimination. But there is still so much to be done to ensure the mental health services available in the UK are looked after to ensure that people get the right support.
There is so much more investment, training, and talking needed so that we can begin to extinguish the huge flames that mental illness is feeding. Today, on World Mental Health Day, it feels like a positive step to see mental health trending, but how long until its importance is dropped in favour of another hashtag or awareness day?
Thankfully, there are many charities and organisations that are passionate and driven to keep banging on the doors of politicians to ensure that those with a mental illness are not forgotten. But for now, for someone who is dealing with mental illness and has felt the depths of despair, I can’t help but feel an added value of hopelessness that nothing is being done quick enough to save the thousands of lives who feel themselves a burden on society.
Katie Bagshawe is currently a Student Diagnostic Radiographer at the University of Derby. She holds an MSc in Psychology from Sheffield Hallam University.