Readers of this blog will likely be fairly aware that I am mentally ill. I’ve been mentally ill since I was a child and there are currently no plans for me to come off antidepressants.. ever. I am chronically mentally ill and not really expecting or expected to ever not be. And I use the Social Model of Disability.
Which baffles some people because it seems pretty straight-forward that my mental illnesses involve my brain doing things that *human brains ought not to do*- ie self-destructive and harmful things that would be a problem for people like me no matter what society we lived in. And I don’t disagree with that! I’d like my brain to not do those things!
Leaving aside all the ways that our society *actively makes people mentally ill* for another blog post, I want to look at how society makes being mentally ill *even more distressing and disabling* than the symptoms of mental illness on their own.
“Get help” is a sentence I hear a lot. It’s a common piece of advice given to people who are mentally ill (often by people who aren’t) and it frustrates me. It frustrates me because built into those two syllables there’s a whole bunch of unhelpful and untrue assumptions that actively make it harder to.. well, “get help”.
First the obvious: the assumption that the right kind of “help” is even available. Then the assumption that it is easy enough to work out what sort of help to “get” and where to go to “get” it. And, of course, the assumption that such “help” is easy to access, usually helpful or successful and never harmful.
I’ve been in and out of counselling, therapy, assessments, doctor’s offices, psychotherapy, welfare drop ins, crisis spaces, help sites, forums and hospitals for the last 7 years. And i have repeatedly found these assumptions to be very, very wrong.
I live in a country with free health care and yet almost all the mental health treatment I have managed to get was delivered by charitable organisations. Some of it I had to pay for – because urgent treatment for my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder wasn’t available where I lived. I wish I were joking but no, the only options I had were an NHS multi-year waiting list for a clinic on the other side of the country, pay for my own treatment or… well, to be blunt, die from untreated severe PTSD. The help I needed wasn’t available. (And now I need more treatment from PTSD and have no money for it *because I spent my Uni bursaries on health care instead of textbooks).
Fast-forward to today, I have generalised anxiety, severe depression and severe PTSD. Recently, I’ve got more and more ill. I’m aware of it and didn’t need to be told to “get help” before I started looking. No fewer than three different groups, NHS and otherwise, refused to help me . Some said I am too “complex”, the NHS crisis team has several times now said I’m too “stable and self-aware” for emergency treatment, citing the fact that I have friends. I’m literate and I can use the internet and I asked and asked and asked for help and nine months in, I’ve only just found someone who can offer me any. Another charity stepping in to keep me afloat while I wait for the NHS waiting lists I’m on to get me any practical help at all.
I’ve spent more time on waiting lists and filling forms and writing emails than I have spent in any kind of mental health treatment – and I still have the scars from treatment that was actively harmful. Treatment that I often stayed with long past the point at which it became obvious to me that I was being harmed – because I felt lucky to be getting any treatment at all.
So all that may tell you why I wince when I hear someone say the words “Get help”.
But what about that social model again?
Here are changes society could make that would make my present and future as a mentally ill person much, much better:
* Mental and physical health screenings for teens and students
* Early and ongoing education on what mental *health* feels like
* More (any!) mental health drop-in spaces where people could go to discuss worries
* MORE MENTAL HEALTH PRACITIONERS
* More choice in practitioners
* Enough mental health services that waiting lists were less than a month long
* Services you can dip in and out of without re-referral for people with chronic mental illnesses
* More social workers / other people who can fill in forms and research and help people find a suitable service for them
* More transparency about all of the above – I was initially told I was on a 6 month waiting list and that gave me false hope but also kept me going. Both people with and people without mental illness need to have clear and realistic expectations of how, where, when and how long it takes to get treatment for mental illness.
* Basic Income (yes, I am going to suggest this for everything) people are ignoring mental illness because they need to work for food and shelter then they are becoming more mentally ill through losing housing/money or through getting back to work sooner than is safe for them.
… probably loads more things that you can add in the comments.
Even if I was always going to become mentally ill, society didn’t exactly set itself up in a way that expected, understood or cared for people like me. But it could have and it could yet and that is, essentially, the social model of disability. Build a society where people like me (and mentally ill people without my literacy, education and uncanny google-using abilities) can LIVE and not just survive. Please.