Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Sanctuary

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The Sanctuary

Recently, a new mental health facility called The Sanctuary opened in Manchester, UK. The first of its kind, it offers people struggling with emotional or mental distress a chance to access emergency overnight support without having to endure the trials and tribulations of going to A+E.

All I can say is, about time. Up until its opening on 10th September this year, there were two distinct pathways available to people in the North West requiring immediate mental health intervention. If you had money, you followed a road paved with gold until you ended up at the luxury surroundings of somewhere like The Priory. Or if you were like me, a pauper reliant on the NHS, you headed to your nearest Accident and Emergency department and took your place on the cold metal chairs with the bleeding, screaming and inebriated.

I’ve done more than a few 6+ hour waits on those chairs, which are screwed to the floor to prevent them being used in a violent attack. During that time, my own distress which I thought had already hit rock bottom, escalated to several layers below it from the trauma of being sat in such an inappropriate environment . Then, when my name was finally called, the humiliation and degradation of trying to explain my complete inability to cope to a disinterested triage nurse nearly finished me off completely. From there I was moved to a private room, which sounds good but it isn’t. It’s completely bare, save for 3 plastic chairs and it’s painted in ‘hospital green’ a shade that is not found anywhere on the Dulux colour chart. There are large sections chipped off for that ‘shabby chic’ feel without the chic. Then anywhere between another 1 and 3 hours later, an on duty psychiatrist or member of the mental health crisis team appears to take down your life story.

At the very point where the visit to A+E has pushed you fully into wanting to end it all, you have to delve into the recesses of your childhood memories and significant mental health events leading up to you being in that green room of doom. Articulating your thoughts in the middle of a mental health crisis is not easy. You are required to think in a straight line when the inside of your head resembles a jumble sale. You have to explain why you have come to A+E in this state and what you would like them to do about it. You have to answer the unanswerable.

At this point you are also desperate for them to be nice and look at you with empathy and concern. Sometimes this happened and I have sobbed with relief at the human connection. But other times I have felt lower than I ever thought possible when I’ve bared my soul to these complete strangers and been left feeling as though I’d been interviewed by a market researcher on the street.

Of course, I understand that they have to follow safeguarding procedures and establish whether I am a risk to myself or others. I know that A+E mental health staff don’t have the time or resources to really offer much in the way of comfort or reassurance, but it adds an extra level of suffering to an already dreadful experience to feel you are on a hospital conveyor belt. If you are not about to do yourself or someone else terrible damage, you are pretty much dischargable within the next hour, with your mental state not that different from when you walked in. Don’t get me wrong, if you are suicidal and can’t see a way past that, A+E is the right place to go. But there is a huge ‘grey area’ of people struggling to manage long-term mental health conditions, who may end up there because there was simply nothing in place to stop their crisis escalating beforehand.

That’s why a place like The Sanctuary is a revelation. It is run by experienced staff and volunteers with personal experience of mental health issues. It provides a range of support including offering a space to talk, managing depression, anxiety and panic attacks and assistance with coping after a crisis has passed. The most crucial fact is that it’s open from 11pm to 9am, so it’s available when most other services are closed and when your problems feel a million times worse.

The second most crucial fact is that there is not an inch of chipped hospital green paint anywhere. On entering the reception area you are instantly soothed by the soft cream and teal colour scheme. There are leather couches, pictures of sunsets and best of all, miniature rocket lava lamps. As Tesco say, ‘every little helps’.

The Sanctuary is based at the Kath Locke Centre, 123 Moss Lane West, Moss Side, Manchester. You can self-refer by calling 0161-637-0808. Health care and other professionals may also refer clients to the service by calling this number. You can also find out more by visiting www.selfhelpservices.org.uk.

If only there were similar facilities available everywhere, but this is an excellent start.

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World Mental Health Day 2013 – Depression and Intuition

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World Mental Health Day 2013 – Depression and Intuition

For this year’s World Mental Health Day I want to highlight an issue I’ve blogged about before – the relationship between Depression and Intuition. One of the most frustrating aspects of depression is that feeling of being completely out of synch with yourself. When I am well, or ‘sub-clinical’ as they say, I have a great sense of what I should do, what I need, who is good for me and who isn’t. I follow what I feel in my gut to be right, and it generally means everything works out just fine. When I’m really on top of my game, I almost find myself having a ‘sixth sense’. I get a prediction of a situation before I am involved in it, dream answers to problems and pick up intuitively what people are thinking and feeling.

If only this were the case when I was depressed. The illness totally messes up my internal regulators and I have tended to act and react in ways that are not always in my own best interests.

I’ve now got over 20 years experience of depression and my manual of coping skills has the heading, ‘Do the opposite of what your intuition is telling you’.

For mild and moderate depression, I have found that if you do the opposite of the following depressed impulses, it can have a dramatic positive effect on your mood and recovery:

1) Isolating yourself. This feels very powerfully like the best thing you could do, when it is actually the worst. In my experience it stemmed from thinking people wouldn’t want to spend time with me when I was depressed and also not feeling able to communicate how I felt. The truth as I discovered, is that people still like you even when you feel bad. Plus, you don’t need to feel ashamed of how you feel. Practice explaining it and anyone who is worthy of your time and attention will try to understand.

2) Letting your routine slip. I’ve realised that routine is a powerful anchor in a world of mood-swings and feeling shitty. You may not feel up to your routine or even want to engage in it, but forcing yourself to do things stops that awful sense that you have been sucked into an abyss and lost control of your life.

3) Staying in bed all day. As a teenager and early twenty-something, I felt like I was listening to my body and mind when I indulged my depressed need to hide in bed. I took part in marathon bed-ins which could have outshone John and Yoko. I now think that this is possibly the worst possible way to deal with depression. It is a hard and sometimes Herculean effort to rise from your pit in the throes of doom. But if you don’t, you have missed out on all the things that can pick you up, like daylight, fresh air, movement, interaction with the world. Humans were not designed to sleep all day, even when ill.

4) Eating and drinking crap, or not eating at all. I had absolutely no awareness of the body/mind connection in my early depressed years. I thought nothing of starting the day with a Sayers cheese and onion pasty, a can of coke and a Mars bar. The rest of the day was filled with chips, pizza and copious amounts of vodka. When extremely depressed, I find it hard to eat at all. But the maths here is very easy to calculate. Bad eating and drinking on top of depression = feeling even more fucked up. It can all seem like such a massive effort, but forcing yourself to eat the opposite of what you want to eat can make a big difference. I’ve noticed that eating pasta, fruit and vegetables does indeed help. If I’m at rock bottom and it’s difficult to find the will to eat, I sip fruit smoothie and fill in the gaps with a vitamin tablet. I gave up alcohol over 13 years ago and will do a separate blog post about that. Suffice to say that drinking and mental health problems do not mix well.

5) Letting yourself go – appearance and personal hygiene. To stop this happening, it involves effort and willpower at a time when both are in short supply. There may not seem to be any point in looking your best, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. We all have some sort of getting ready routine which prepares us for the day. This is even more important to hold onto as your mood slips south, as you don’t want your dignity to disappear with it. Plus, you are less likely to get out, interact and see people if you haven’t had some sort of wash and brush-up. If you wear make-up, there is something to be said for putting a slick of lippy in between you and the world.

For severe depression, I’ve found that it’s a lot more tricky. I’m only able to draw on reversing intuition to manage depression when it’s in the early or developing stages. The rules are totally different when you are at the bottom of hell. You can’t force yourself to do things and it can be wrong and inappropriate to try. However, I like to think that what I’ve learned has stopped some of my depressive episodes escalating into the worst-case scenario.

It’s worth the effort to challenge yourself. Answer the negative voices back when they pipe up about not wanting to get up, eat or engage with the world. These days, I find a simple ‘fuck off’ will suffice.