Category Archives: mental health services

How to survive mental illness under a Tory government

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Let’s be honest, it wasn’t ideal having mental health issues under the previous government, but now the Tories are in power, their proposed austerity cuts to services and benefits have understandably caused shock-waves and concern for sufferers.

The problem is, having a mental illness means you already feel vulnerable and dis-empowered. To know that the struggles you already face are only going to get more difficult is a slap in the face from the Conservatives.

I’ve needed more than my fair share of interventions and benefits over the years and my mental health CV boasts an impressive selection of services used.

All of this has had a huge positive impact. The help I’ve received has not only kept me alive but in the case of some therapies, changed my life.  I’d even go as far as saying my mind is in good order now. But what if I need help in the future? What about the other one in four people that are still affected by mental health issues, or who are only just seeking help for the first time?

It’s ironic that these cuts to services coincide with a rise in mental health awareness campaigns such as Rethink’s ‘Time To Change’ and a growing number of celebrities coming forward to urge us that being open about mental illness is a positive thing.

Will it do any good to speak up about mental health if the Tories have taken their financial cleaver and butchered support services and benefits?

I think it will and it’s important to remember there’s still much that you can do to take back power and feel you have some control over the situation. It’s time to stop circulating that photo of David Cameron wearing a Thatcher wig on Facebook and think about what we can actually do to create change.

The first thing to bear in mind is that you always have a voice and it is your most powerful weapon, no matter how much it may feel as though your needs have been silenced. It is so important to speak up and talk about mental health and the struggles you face, not least to fight the stigma which surrounds the subject. Secondly, you always have the choice to fight back against any decisions or actions taken against you.

It can be difficult to fight from a position of illness and disability but as a group collective voice, more can be achieved than going it alone. Plus, it’s easier. That doesn’t mean to say you shouldn’t write to your M.P, sign petitions and campaign individually if you are able to, but getting your opinions heard on a grand scale involves aligning yourself with as many powerful organisations, groups and people as possible and letting them do the talking with you and for you.

Being aware of and getting involved in the work of the leading mental health organisations and charities is crucial. I’m closely following MIND, SANE and Rethink, all of whom provide advice, information and support on all aspects of mental health as well as helping you to feel you’re not alone. Although they shouldn’t become a substitute for individual specialised help, they are somewhere to turn in the meantime.

Noticing which key public figures and celebrities are supporting mental health causes is also a great way to ‘piggy back’ your voice into a wider arena; let them know via Twitter, Facebook page or even old-fashioned email or letter that you support the work they are doing.

Or you could always go straight to the top and tweet David Cameron some suggestions for change. Without getting too troll-y, it might give him something to read over his morning coffee, although I’m guessing he will be too busy decimating the NHS to reply.

Find other people who are in the same position as you, through community or online forums and support groups. Information and knowledge shared is power. There are some excellent Facebook groups such as Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) which offer advice and support to anyone affected by austerity cuts, also the non-profit group Fightback4Justice.co.uk offers advice on benefits and will help you to fill in those designed-to-catch-you-out forms. Don’t forget, there are also national organisations such as Disability Rights UK and the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, both of which offer free advice and support.

You could also start your own petition, write a blog or create a group to keep abreast of Tory developments and discuss ideas with a community of like-minded people. There are lots of anti-austerity protests happening around the country too, if you are well enough to turn up and wave a placard.

The one thing you shouldn’t do is keep quiet or accept decisions made against you at face value.

Because that’s what the Tories want.

P.S I tweeted David Cameron but he hasn’t replied.

Laura Roche ‏@flyingkipper  19m19 minutes ago

@David_Cameron Please could you stop making cuts to mental health services and benefits? Thanks!

*This piece has also been published in the Huffington Post UK and as soon as I work out how to do hyperlinks, I will be sure to hyperlink it. In the meantime, here is a regular style link –

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/laura-roche/mental-illness_b_7493964.html

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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.