It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, which is, in theory, a good thing. Since all it seems to involve is people on social media saying ‘talk about it’ it is not actually all that helpful.
We absolutely should talk about mental illness more. We should educate our kids about symptoms & how normal it is to experience them. We should put better training in place for teachers, emergency services & NHS staff. We should all try harder not to judge or shirk away from people who are struggling. Employers should be flexible with staff dealing with mental illness. There should be more information, more understanding, more honesty. Yes, we should talk about it. Asking for help it definitely a good idea. All of these things are important & valid, but there’s still something missing from the conversation.
What happens when you do speak openly & no one listens (or seems to care). Can we talk about all the people who gathered all their courage &!swallowed their pride to ask for help and didn’t get any? Can we address the fact that as hard as is it to say ‘I’m not ok’, it’s a million times harder to hear ‘tough luck’ in response.
We do need to talk about mental illness, but we also need to listen and act. Funding is of course part of the problem. The NHS is chronically underfunded & mental health is the poor cousin. For all the political talk of parity between physical & mental illness, there has been little change to waiting times or scarcity of vital mental health services. Very often waiting to even be assessed by a mental health team is a long process. In my area the wait for psychologist input is 4months (that’s relatively short), in practise you’ll be waiting longer because you will first have to be referred & assessed before anyone even adds you to that list. During all this waiting time people can have no professional support.
Then there are the multitude who are deemed ‘not sick enough’. To be fair this has always been an issue due to stigma & ignorance. Lack of funding exacerbates the problem. When services are so stretched, access to those resources become limited. Lots of people who seek help for mental health problems are basically told to manage it themselves. Get some exercise, reduce your stress, get out more. When you summon your strength to talk about things that frighten you and are told it’s no big deal, it’s hard not to feel even more pathetic. It is difficult not to feel shutdown. Repeat that scenario more than once & people give up. Likewise for those who are informed that they’re not quite ill enough to warrant intervention. All that talk of early warning signs & speaking up doesn’t translate into much action. Having a professional ask you to wait & see if your health declines before they will help you is a kick in the gut. When you know that getting worse means your entire life falling apart, it’s not unreasonable to prefer to be proactive. When you don’t know what’s happening to you all, it is terrifying. So, yes, we do need to talk about it. I will always encourage people to ask for help. I will always strive to remove the shame of admitting you need assistance. I’ll also continue to demand that we talk about what happens after you take that step. We cannot ignore the fact that asking for help does not guarantee receiving it. We must acknowledge all the people for whom no treatment has been forthcoming & stop pretending that the problem isn’t much, much bigger.
People die because they did talk about it & nothing changed. Can we start talking about that?