Red, I hope you don’t mind me sharing this. It’s a brave and beautiful blog post about trying to get help and not finding it. Red was prompted by this piece by a London paramedic about one of her frequent fliers.
He only ever called from his home. He was never rude, always polite and therefore never had anything to do with the police. The police have more powers than us and can be very useful with mental health and enforcing assessments but this was an avenue which was never open to us. He always agreed to go voluntarily and as such, was never in a position to be held against his will… I suppose it was only a matter of time before he did it. He’d been let down but the system that is there to help him, and he was let down because he was submissive. He didn’t complain about lack of treatment. He never raised his voice.
Contra convention, Christmas isn’t a big spike for breakdown. More suicides happen over the summer. And it’s not true what they say about us militant atheists. I always love this time of year.
But both these articles chime with my own experience of trying to self refer a few months ago. I spent weeks on this and got nowhere. Eventually, I gave up, sick of trying to negotiate a system that seemed completely inaccessible to anyone with a full time job, and so obviously geared around the needs of nine to five practitioners rather than service users. At this point, a guy rang up, asking if I wanted yet again to reschedule an appointment, and I told him exactly what I thought of his shitty, half-arsed excuse for a service. It still makes me angry when I think about it.
I resented giving so much of my time trying to get past the gate. I am getting older, my time is important to me and I like to spend it reading and writing and socialising. I resented too the position I’d been put in – a supplicant bounced from pillar to post. Up until this year I’ve been lucky with key workers and therapists. Now my luck has run out and I can’t be bothered. I will probably not seek treatment again, even if I deteriorate radically. Fuck this shit. I’ll walk away and say nothing.
The conclusion I’ve come to is there is no effective help out there. I don’t like to write this. I don’t want the brave and compassionate practitioners out there to read this and feel insulted. I certainly don’t want any vulnerable readers to take my words as a counsel of despair, and to do stupid and irrational things to themselves. Most of all I don’t want to just moan about public services. I stress this is a rough impression based on personals and anecdotals. It’s a strong impression though, and we should not be afraid of criticising the system when it fails. All in this together? You are on your own.
The doctor, writer and comic Phil Hammond writes that (£):
It’s ludicrous that your chance of survival depends on having your illness ‘in hours’ or ‘out of hours’. ‘In hours’ you see senior staff and get urgent investigations. ‘Out of hours’ it’s a novice turkey-shoot.
He’s talking about physical care but I think it applies to mental health as well. It seems to me that so much of what the nine-to-fivers in mental health trusts should be doing is taken up by paramedics and police officers – kind and courageous people, who have probably worked most of these last few days and nights, and deserve a little more credit. A cop blogger who focuses on mental health issues reckons that ‘15% of policework involves some dimension of mental illness.’
So that, again, is my take on mental health services today. Christ knows what they will be like once Lansley’s finished with them. Self-slaughter rates are rising. I have lost count of local stories about people talked off the bridge at the last moment. Job Centre staff are now given pro forma guidelines to deal with suicidal claimants. Of course, every suicide represents a subtraction from the welfare bill, and from the unemployment stats. I can’t claim this has factored into government thinking. But, frankly, I could believe anything of this government.
What to do? I stress again that this is my personal opinion and many people will have and do have better experiences than mine. I would never dissuade people from trying to access professional help. I think too that informal networks are better than they have ever been. Crisis call a friend. Talk on social networks. Read and comment on the mental health blogs. Fuck off the grey evil people who drag you down. Surround yourself with good things, positivity and love.
Writing this post, I thought of ‘Desiderata’, the 1927 American devotional. It’s somewhat trite to quote this, I appreciate. And God knows we don’t need religion at this time of year.
And yet: ‘whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.’
Image via the amazing NotAloneAtXmas Twitter account