We often think that the NHS is there to help us with mental illness or even just mental distress but there are limits to the help that it can provide. My interest in the area of mental distress came from personal experience.
I was struggling to cope with home family and marriage and wondering how on earth to find the help that I thought that I needed. I had crazy idea about where I could possibly get help and decided to went for a walk on cold winter’s day to get the help I needed. After all no one seemed to be interested in helping me. Cut a long story sort I ended up being discovered on the way there. I had only got about 3 miles but despite having a thick coat on I had stopped thinking clearly because I had hypothermia.
I was brought home and it took 3 or 4 hours to warm me up. The coal fire was stoked up to warm the room up as much as possible. I was laid on the couch still with my coat on and covered in thick blankets. I was hurting and there seemed no way out. so going for a long walk to a place where they supposedly helped people who could not think normally seemed a good idea at the time. Quite what I thought they would do to help me I am not sure. What I do know is that that was really a cry for help.
My family did not know or understand the pressure I was under on the home front. They saw a façade a front a mask that seemed to show a happy family. I look back now and see that some of the people who said they were on my side who were hurting me the most. At the time I accepted that unkind or unhelpful things were said. I was told that the degree I had was not worth the paper it was written on because it was an arts degree not a science degree. In fact nothing I had done or was doing was worthwhile.
What I did not know was that this was the classic grooming for a victim. All those things you thought you had done that were worthwhile were really not worth bothering with at all. Those parents you thought were kind and considerate were really terrible people. Your brother and sister are useless and seriously not worth bothering with. Nowhere to go. Nowhere to turn. No escape.
On the other hand my family were told that there is something terribly wrong with her she just cannot cope with normal life. They had no idea about the reality of my life. OK I was not the strongest of people but I was being fed a diet of words that weakened me rather than strengthened me. The weaker I got the harder it was to cope with everyday life. They tried to get help for me but they were told was the problem was that I was struggling to cope with the stress of the environment I was living in.
Which comes first, mental distress or the circumstances around you?
The answer is, it depends. There are people who get themselves into financial difficulties because they have a mental illness. There are others who struggle with mental illness after getting into financial difficulties. Everyone if different.
Which is the problem that you resolve first? It depends. What is the problem that you can actually do something about at this moment in time? What can you do at this moment in time? Can you offer the equivalent to first aid? Can you treat the symptoms? Can you deal with the underlying cause?
It is incredibly difficult meeting the needs of people in mental distress. Some might need help reading and writing. Others might need help looking for a new home after leaving an unhappy home.
Yet what can the NHS actually do to help people with such complex needs? They can provide healthcare of course but what about those who need more. The nurse in the accident and emergency department can tell the person in front of them who is badly bruised that they should keep well away from the person who hit them hard enough to bruise them that badly. They cannot provide them with a strategy to help them leave or much in the way of helping them find somewhere to go.
Our needs as human beings are so amazingly complex. The doctor can give you an anti-depressant but it is not very often that they give you the help that you need to get you out of the circumstances that leave you feeling depressed. The anti-depressant may be one piece in the puzzle that will help you recover from a tough situation but that is all that it is.
That is why the dream of Lily’s Place seemed to be such a good idea. The hope was to develop a one stop shop where people could come to resolve any or all the issues that I had come across or that I thought would help people who were struggling so much that they could be said to be in mental distress. Some were long term ideas like a place for a cuppa and others were longer term like helping them learn to read and write. The are so many things that cause problems.
Times have not changed in fact as the fear of a no-deal Brexit looms then the risk is that life will get harder not easier for people.