I am furious with the mental health awareness campaign. I am seething at the lie that if we put our mentally ill heads above the parapet and reach out, we will be seen and heard and given help. I am livid about the fact that mental health seems to be the great issue of our times, yet for those of us with severe and enduring mental illnesses, cuts to vital services mean that dreams of even the most basic long term care are the reality of a bygone era.
I want to force public attention away from the well-meaning awareness campaign and towards the lack of crisis care available, towards the state of our seriously ailing social services, and towards the effects of austerity measures which have put the lives of the most vulnerable in society at the most risk.
But there is absolutely nothing I can say which hasn’t already been said. The statistics are clear and damning and public. Writers have won awards for their criticism of the mental health conversation. Yet we continue to be blasted by a message of awareness which skates over the truth in a way that puts us all at risk. So I am going to shout about the reality of the situation, of my situation, in an effort to redress the balance of the conversation we so desperately need to be having.
The reality is urgent referrals getting lost or delayed on numerous occasions. It is being in a life-threatening situation and put on hold for hours by a specialist crisis line whose voicemail message reveals that the mental health ‘team’ patients are encouraged to seek help from is in fact a single Nurse serving the entirety of South London.
The reality sees risk assessments refuse patients access to services until they are more likely than not to attempt suicide. We are pushed to the brink before we are worthy of treatment. And then there is the grand irony that we are all encouraged to reach out for help which exists only for those who can afford to pay.
I am tired. I am exhausted from living with a condition that often sees my emotional state vary from ecstatic to suicidal multiple times a day. Recently I have started to hallucinate. I am terrified of slipping back into crisis because I know that when I call for the help that I need I will not get it. I know that the more ill I become, the harder I will have to fight for my basic right to mental healthcare.
I am burdened with an unbearably cruel illness which tells me that I am wrong to write this and wrong to expect any help because I am not worth a breath of energy from anybody. And I am starting to wonder if my experiences of the system have fuelled my belief that nothing I go through could be bad enough to warrant serious and thorough treatment. This is all making me sicker.
Countless stories like these are already in the public domain. It often feels like I’m screaming into an echochamber filled with other mental health service users who too are facing year-long waits for help with conditions that are life threatening now. We have been shouting from the rooftops while well-meaning ideas of awareness and resilience are banded about like they will solve everything. Of course #EveryMindMatters. But shining a light on mental ill-health and failing to acknowledge the grossly inadequate systems which exist to deal with it often just serves to exacerbate the issue.
I don’t want you to respond with sympathy. I want you to be angry. I want you to share my outrage, the outrage I felt when I was sent away from more than one health provider, suicidal and alone, because I was not on the right list to qualify for help. I want your awareness to be centered on the situations that thousands of us face daily as we continue to keep our heads above the water while fighting a battle that should not exist.
The chances are that you’ve already read something like this. My experience is not unique. Please, if you are mentally healthy, take my anger and do something productive with it, because I have run out of energy and this crisis is growing. Please share the fight with me.