There’s been so much media attention surrounding the importance of speaking out about our mental health difficulties and it’s a common misconception that once you do speak out you can get the help that you so desperately need. Sadly from my experience it’s been incredibly difficult to get that help and surprisingly easy to slip through the net and be ignored by the professionals that are responsible for our care.
Note: I live in the UK so I’m speaking from my own experience of the NHS care system and also of my dealings with private counselling services and self help resources.
My mental health started to decline after my diagnosis with Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare auto-immune disease that came on suddenly and left me unable to walk or take care of myself. When I was discharged from hospital I lived on my own and needed a family member to move in and take care of me. Looking back on things I really think it would have helped if I had been given the opportunity to speak with a counsellor about my experiences early on. I was so focused on my physical disabilities at the time that I neglected my mental health but all the circumstances were there for me to be at risk of many mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or PTSD. I was mourning the loss of my independence and the life I took for granted before.
This is the second time I have found myself dealing with mental health concerns. The first time I didn’t really feel comfortable speaking about it much but this time around I was much more open with other people. I think there were two reasons for this, the first was that having experienced it before I was more aware of the importance of speaking out and getting help. Secondly and perhaps more significantly, having being hospitalised with a rare and serious condition I somehow felt I had more of a reason to be struggling mentally and therefore I was much less embarassed or ashamed about it. I say that with caution, because you should never feel ashamed or embarrassed about having mental health concerns any more than you would about having a broken arm, but the reality for many people is that they feel the need to hide it because of the stigma attached to it.
Speaking out can seem terrifying for some, but it’s a necessary first step in order to get the help we need.
Which leads to the important question……Does speaking out about our mental health mean we will get the support and advice that we need? Click To Tweet
Sadly, from my own experience, speaking out hasn’t always meant that help is at hand. As I sit writing this post I’m currently still on a waiting list for mental health counselling through the NHS. I self referred for counselling months ago and was told I’d be placed on the list but to be prepared to wait. I asked to have access to the online CBT course that is available immediately, but was told that because I was waiting for counselling I wouldn’t be allowed access to the online course as it might conflict with the in person counselling I would be having. How on earth it can be a conflict when I’d be finished the online course before the counselling would begin, who knows?? The online CBT may actually have improved my mental health to the point that the in person counselling would no longer be needed. To add insult to injury I was also told that because I have a physical health difficulty alongside mental health, that the counselling would have to be dealt with via the local “persistent pain” service. This service does not offer telephone counselling like the regular service offers. I would be required to attend regularly in person. Now anyone with a physical disability which causes a great deal of pain and fatigue will know, that it’s very difficult to keep to regular appointment times. I never know if that day will be a day where I wake up in the morning and can’t leave the house. If that happens and I can’t keep to the appointments then I probably wouldn’t be allowed to continue treatment.
Whilst I definitely appreciate having a free mental health service in the UK, in my opinion it’s vitally important that people have access to that service in a much quicker time that what it is currently taking and the service needs to be equally as accessible to everyone.
The alternative option is of course to access a private counsellor and fund that myself. I have received private mental health counselling before and found it to be extremely beneficial. Sadly, the cost of private treatment is out of reach for most. I was only able to access it for a short time as part of some free sessions I was lucky enough to have been given. The usual cost of a one hour session would have been £40. Given that there are a significant number of people who are not able to work due to their mental health, the cost of private healthcare is out of reach for many people.
I’ve also found it incredibly difficult to maintain relationships and most friends have been unsupportive.
I’ve written more about that here in an earlier post.
Due to both my poor physical and mental health I’ve been housebound most of the time and sadly the majority of my friends have been extremely unsupportive. When I’ve posted on my social media about the topic of mental health people will hit the like button in show of their support. On world mental health day they’ll post something themselves to announce to the world that they support the cause and are there for any of their friends who need them. Unfortunately actions are never forthcoming and there have been many times I have been promised a visit from a friend who then doesn’t show up. I’ll not hear from them again until the next time I reach out and I get the usual apologetic response and a poor excuse that they’ve been so busy they’ve not had the time. Too busy to even send a text message to ask how I am? It seems to me that if I’m not out partying at the weekend or having evening meals in expensive restaurants then my friendship isn’t required. There is a saying I once heard that sums up my opinion perfectly……" I am not interested in whether you've stood with the great. I am interested in whether you've sat with the broken." Click To Tweet
This is my philosphy now when it comes to choosing my friends.
So with counselling being out of reach for me at the moment, and friends who are busy with their own lives, the one thing I do have access to are the many phone apps dedicated to all things mental health related. Topics such as meditation, anxiety, mood tracking, and mindfulness.
The app I have found myself using the most has been Moodpath.
It’s free to use but you do have to pay if you want access to all its features. I just use the free parts of the app and it’s great for tracking my mood and keeping a record of it that I can download and show to my doctor. The app asks a series of quick questions relating to mood 3 times a day and then logs the results giving a summary every 14 days. The summary is surprisingly detailed and gives a list of symptoms and evidence based examples from your answers. There’s an option to download your summary which you can give to your doctor or keep yourself as evidence of your illness. Its really easy and quick to use and I’d highly recommend it. If you subscibe you will also be able to access the helpful courses it has available.
I have also used the Headspace app which I did enjoy using as an introduction to meditation but the free parts of the app are extremely limited and I couldn’t afford to subscribe for full access. If meditation is something you’d like to try and like me you can’t afford a paid membership then I’d highly recommend an app called Insight Timer. There are thousands of free meditations and you can search for various types or subjects, you can even see who else is meditating and add them as friends to chat to if you wish. I’ve been given some really helpful advice from some of the more experienced users and everyone seems very friendly. You can of course find lots of free meditations and mental health information on Youtube and I find myself using this option for sleep stories at night time when my mind is keeping me awake.
If you’re ever in need of some inspiration, new self help ideas or you just want to look at some funny relatable memes then Pinterest is a great source of information. There are a mixture of longer articles to read or just some simple images for those times when concentration is lacking, which will list lots of examples of self help ideas and activities to help improve your mood. I have a collection of saved pins on my Pinterest page that relate to depression, anxiety and chronic illness. You can view them here.
So if like me, you’re on a long waiting list for professional help with your mental health and finding yourself becoming increasingly isolated from your friends then there are lots of other options out there that you can access for free at home. Self help is a very important part of recovery and I hope that reading my post has given you some new ideas to try and has helped you to feel less alone. As always, comments are very welcome and feel free to leave your own tips for managing your mental health.