"When my mind stopped working, I realised just how badly we treat MH"

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NeuralgicNeurotic

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This is a fairly good article on the impact of delays in MH treatment, specifically for depression and anxiety. It is especially important in that it comes from a right wing newspaper.


http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/life/isabel-hardman-mind-stopped-working-realised-just-badly-treat/



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A few years ago, a fellow political journalist asked me, quite sincerely, whether depression "really is an illness". In 2016, when I decided to speak out about the mental illness that had forced me off sick for two months, the reaction could not have been kinder or more enlightened. I was inundated, not just with messages of support, but with people who I had admired for years telling me that they had been there too.

Describing 2016 as "terrible" is so melodramatic and hackneyed. In fact, it was one of the best years for journalists: stuffed with surprises and historic events. But personally, it really was terrible.

At the start of the year, I experienced what I will describe loosely as a Ďtraumaí, of the order that people take many years to recover from. I tried to deal with it during the busiest year of my career: the Brexit referendum, three party leadership contests, and a new Prime Minister.




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At first, I found work was an escape from my personal problems, and colleagues remarked on how well I seemed to be coping, given what had happened. But gradually I found my mind becoming foggier, and my reactions to everyday troubles more extreme and anxious. I've had times in my life where I have been miserable. But never before had I struggled to control my mind.

In June, I confessed to a friend I had been struggling with very dark thoughts. He took me to the doctor straight away and I was prescribed anti-depressants. Without my friend recognising my symptoms as an illness, I probably wouldnít have gone to the doctor at all.

I tried to look after myself, booking a holiday in Nice with someone I had started seeing a few weeks before. But a relaxing few days by the sea turned into a tragedy: we missed the terror attack on La Promenade des Anglais by five minutes. At the time, friends told me I would need space to recover from a near miss like this. I ignored them, but looking back I now realise that this was yet another weight on a sick mind struggling to cope.




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By the autumn, I was run ragged, and still trying to push myself through what Iíd only just realised was a very high pressure job. Iíd been working at the The Spectator for over four years by this point, and can honestly say Iíve loved every day. Iíve never even had the Sunday night blues.

But when you are ill, whether physically or mentally, a busy job can become impossible. My job didnít make me ill. It was just that I eventually became too sick to do it. By the middle of the Tory party conference, I couldnít write sentences of the evening email briefing read by everyone in Westminster from the Prime Minister downwards. Normally this takes me half an hour to write. On 3 October 2016, my mind was full of words flying angrily around like startled gulls. I wrote just one line in an hour.

I had to stop working altogether, pull out of my evening speaking engagement and a Newsnight panel, and seek emergency treatment. Even though I had had to leave my colleagues in the middle of the party conference, which is normally the busiest week of the year for The Spectator, my colleagues were only supportive, agreeing that I needed to stop. They picked up the pieces and have never placed any pressure on me or made me feel guilty about being ill.




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I had to stop working altogether, pull out of my evening speaking engagement and a Newsnight panel, and seek emergency treatment. Even though I had had to leave my colleagues in the middle of the party conference, which is normally the busiest week of the year for The Spectator, my colleagues were only supportive, agreeing that I needed to stop. They picked up the pieces and have never placed any pressure on me or made me feel guilty about being ill.

Anxiety and depression are two terms that barely touch on the terror these two illnesses, sometimes separate but often intertwined, cause. Healthy Isabel would bounce happily through work days like a pinball. But no amount of motivation could make me pull myself together. My mind had stopped working, and that was that. I had tried to keep going for as long as I could. But by this point, I was relieved that I was finally stopping.

Two things struck me about my sick leave. One was that the activities I did to treat my depression were as important as the medicine I was taking. It took a while to find the right anti-depressants, but as we fiddled with the dosage, my doctor was insistent that I keep running and horse riding, no matter how terrible I felt.




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Bouncy pinball Isabel who would get up at 5.30am to go running or spinning, and who thought Sunday nights were best spent running 10km up big hills had been replaced by a rather less motivated creature. So I booked a personal trainer to drag me out of the house. Expensive, but worth it.

The second striking thing was that while we have a free-at-the-point-of-use health service in this country, youíre more likely to recover from a mental illness if you have money. It wasnít just that I spent my savings on running sessions and riding lessons. It was also that I had to use that money to get treatment in a timely fashion. I normally loathe comparisons between the NHS and the US healthcare system. But I cannot shake the feeling that Iíve encountered an American-style system when it comes to mental health care.

Unless you have money or private health insurance (and I did not have the latter), you end up stuck on waiting lists for months. Mental health trusts are still having their budgets cut, according to recent analysis from think tank the King's Fund.

Research in 2014 found that one in ten people wait over a year just to get an assessment for a talking therapy, while four in ten wait more than three months. Two thirds told the We Need To Talk coalition that they had become more unwell while waiting, with one in six attempting suicide.




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Theresa May has decided to make mental health a priority, and this week announced more help, particularly for young people who fall ill. But there simply isnít enough money for adequate treatment at the moment, whether it be talking therapies or hospital beds. Perhaps the Prime Minister plans to release more money in the future. If she doesnít, the governmentís commitment to putting mental health on an equal footing with physical health will be impossible to realise.

The health system is disheartening. But there are many things that have cheered me as Iíve recovered. Like the journalist unsure about depression a few years ago, society has recently become kinder. A friend who had taken time off in 2010 for anxiety told me normally loving people had instructed her to Ďsnap out of ití. Today that would be unimaginable. My friends and family have done everything they possibly can to help me, including biting their tongue when I cancelled on them for the third time, or leaving work early to look after me.







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Children now grow up understanding depression. My partnerís eldest daughter, who shows compassion and emotional intelligence far beyond her eight years, had spotted something was up. John explained I had an illness that made me sad for no reason. She asked what she could do to help.

"Why donít you ask how sheís doing out of 10?" he suggested, remembering the grading system that cricketer Graeme Fowler devised for his own children when he was depressed. "If she says 10, then sheís fine and well enough to play with you. But if itís a 1 or a 2, then maybe she just needs a hug and a bit of time on her own." This has worked a treat: "out of 10?" is now her own fun secret code - and she really is very good at giving hugs.

My mind started working again in late November. I found myself becoming less anxious and being able to concentrate on writing again. The GP devised a plan for coming back which involved me adding a few hours each week. Each stage would feel easy, rather than a cold-water shock to the system by returning to the crazy working weeks I was quite used to but which would be impossible when I was still a bit, well, crazy.




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My employers told me to take my time - telling me that they missed my work but that everything was going fine without me. But coming back has not been easy. I have needed far more reassurance than I thought I would: every day I have worried I am not doing enough, or that colleagues donít need me any more.

I hope I can return the kindness The Spectator has shown me - but the reward they will certainly get is a member of staff who returns to work for good, because she has been given the time to recover from an injury to her mind.

I usually try to avoid writing pieces about my personal life. But my own experience of mental illness has given me an insight into the way government policy is working: the reason I came into journalism. My illness showed me how very badly things are going wrong in mental health care. The more I saw, the more I wanted to return to work so I could write about these problems more. And that, thanks to a kinder society, very kind employers, and my own random luck in being able to afford the right treatment, is exactly what Iím now able to do once again.

KizzyKazaer

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Thanks for posting, NN!

Mental health (or rather, mental illness) has also been in the news on the Radio 4 Today programme this past week - I seem to recall that Theresa May was going to make it one of her priorities, but will believe that when it happens...

NeuralgicNeurotic

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She apparently intends to tackle the stigma surrounding MH conditions, which of course, doesn't cost anything.

Sunny Clouds

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Rantette on mental health stigma, focussing on the linguistics...

I remember when the stigma that surrounded cancer was tackled.   The word stigma wasn't used, just lots of public information.

But now we have endless repetitions of the association between 'mental health' and 'stigma'.  All it does, IMO, is to stigmatise mentally ill people.  Why?  For those that don't know what I'm going to say next, bear with me if I tell you that it will help if you don't think of a pink elephant in the context of my explanation.  Yes, I know it sounds weird suddenly mentioning pink elephants in the context of my explaining things but, well, just don't think of a pink elephant while I'm...well, I guess you've probably sussed it.  I asked you not to associate a pink elephant with my explanation, and most people would think of a pink elephant.

So we have campaigns and soundbites and press releases etc., etc.  all associating the word 'stigma' with 'mental health' and then we wonder why people see mental health (or rather mental illness) as something to be stigmatised.

Meanwhile, all this coyness talking about mental health is making it worse.  How come we can mention most illnesses when tackling the issues surrounding them, but we can't say  mental illness?

I visited someone in a big hospital with a psychiatric hospital nearby.  The psychiatric hospital had a twee name.  The word 'hospital' didn't appear, nor the alternative word 'unit', even though it was an inpatient hospital/unit.  They didn't even use 'clinic'.  The word 'psychiatric' didn't appear, or even 'mental'.  It was a 'centre' with a silly, random, botanical name. 

I've since realised that there are lots of such places around.  It's ok to go to a 'hospital' if you have most conditions, but not mental illness.  There, I've used the 'i' word.

Incidentally, the psychiatric hospital I saw had a high black fence.  Oh good, let's be coy and call it a centre so that people stop to wonder what it is that is so embarassing we don't say what it really is, then let's put black fencing round to make it look like a prison.  Why not call it a psychiatric hospital or psychiatric unit and then have nice blue or green fencing like they do round play areas, sports areas in parks etc?

The more they attach the concept of stigma to mental illness and the more they avoid mentioning it if they can use euphemisms, the longer the stigma will continue. 

Incidentally, if you're trying to persuade people who've never had a mental illness that mental health is something we shouldn't stigmatise, might that not be interpreted by many as meaning 'mental health [problems]' aren't real illness so you don't stigmatise them because they're just little things like being a bit down or whatever.

And meanwhile, how many ordinary people do think of 'mental health' when they read the word 'schizophrenia'.  That's not 'mental health', that's 'mental illness' or 'madness'.

End of linguistic lecture.
(I'm an obsessive problem-solver, so feel free to ignore any suggestions or solutions I offer, even if they sound terribly insistent.)

NeuralgicNeurotic

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Incidentally, if you're trying to persuade people who've never had a mental illness that mental health is something we shouldn't stigmatise, might that not be interpreted by many as meaning 'mental health [problems]' aren't real illness so you don't stigmatise them because they're just little things like being a bit down or whatever.

And meanwhile, how many ordinary people do think of 'mental health' when they read the word 'schizophrenia'.  That's not 'mental health', that's 'mental illness' or 'madness'.

You've touched on something that hacks me off no end, Sunny. I regard myself as having a mental illness, but have been shouted down so often by fellow sufferers that I've learned to self-censor.  I really dislike the trivialising of severe, life-threatening illnesses by referring to them as 'mental health issues', or 'mental health problems'. My default compromise is 'mental health condition' as that at least places severe mental distress on a par with other forms of illness - think 'heart condition' or 'lung condition'. It also (I hope) conveys the idea that this is not something you 'get over', but something you live with and manage on a daily basis.


To add to your comments on stigma, focusing on stigma permits the government to claim it's helping while it continues to cut and under-fund the services that save people's lives.

Sunny Clouds

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focusing on stigma permits the government to claim it's helping while it continues to cut and under-fund the services that save people's lives.

Like it's claiming to be putting more money into the NHS whilst reducing it?  Like it's saying the NHS can't cope because demand is too high, when it's because we only put 8% of our GDP into it unlike our near-neighbours in Northern Europe who typically put about 10 or 11% in?

I came across something today that sums up how easy it is to mislead people.  It was a Young Turks broadcast.  For those that don't watch it, it's American and left of centre.

They pointed to research into support for 'Obamacare' and 'the Affordable Care Act'.  What they found was that people were generally in favour of the ACA and against Obamacare.  More to the point, people generally didn't know that the ACA and Obamacare are exactly the same thing.

Likewise I am of the opinion from reading various UK news and opinion outlets for many years that in recent years, people have been sold the message that mentally ill people on benefits 'just' have depression or whatever.  So we're scroungers and we should get a job.  But those same people are horrified if we do and they discover that some of us are the 'nutters'/'loonies' that they think should be locked up. 

It's no use, I have to give vent to another bee in my bonnet.  When there are campaigns in relation to physical illness, they're not campaigns in relation to 'physical illness', and even insofar as they relate to 'physical wellbeing/health', that's more from the diet and exercise perspective.  But who gives speeches or runs campaigns that put, say, prostate cancer and indigestion in the same category?

Grrhhh!
(I'm an obsessive problem-solver, so feel free to ignore any suggestions or solutions I offer, even if they sound terribly insistent.)