Changing My Mind
by Bryan Woods
As a young man I gave little if any thought to my mental health. All the while everything was okay, I thought I had no need to. However, in my early thirties’ I was suddenly hit by severe depression and anxiety.
That changed everything - including my outlook on Mental Health issues.
I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. It was a time when mental health issues were often stigmatised, misunderstood or ignored. People were reluctant to talk about them. Mental illness was often seen as a sign of weakness or even shame – especially among men. The British ‘ stiff upper lip ‘ attitude definitely prevailed.
By the time I was diagnosed in the mid-1990s, attitudes had moved on to some extent. I came to see that depression and anxiety, together with other forms of mental Ill-health, are not something to be ashamed of.
Therefore I assumed that mental health issues would be treated on a level playing field with physical health issues. How wrong I was.
I was hospitalised on a number of occasions during my sixteen years in the Mental Health system. It was then that I realised just how woefully underfunded and understaffed the whole system is.
I would like to say that things have got better since then. But sadly that is not the case. If anything they have got worse – sometimes much worse.
Take for example the practice of sending people to mental health wards hundreds of miles away from their home community. Can you imagine the uproar that would ensue if this happened to somebody who had a physical health issue ? Yet it happens all too frequently in the Mental Health system.
Tragically people are still falling through the cracks in the system. Hardly a week goes by without a report in the media about a suicide that might have been prevented if the right intervention had been in place.
Some patients have even been neglected or abused while staying on Mental Health wards. A recent example was the harrowing BBC Panorama programme about the Edenfield Centre in Prestwich near Manchester.
Of course most of the people working in the NHS Mental Health system are incredibly hard working and dedicated individuals. They are doing their best in a system that is in deep crisis. But there is a minority who should not be let within a hundred miles of an in-patient. Surely the best way to root out these people is by more regular and rigorous inspections of all NHS Mental Health Units.
My own mental health is now much better than it was. I have not been on a mental health ward for more than a decade. I am very grateful for that.
Today I volunteer with Havant and East Hants Mind, as a Volunteer Peer Support Worker. One of the requirements for this is mental health lived experience. Because of this I am much more likely to empathise with people who are facing similar challenges.
For the past few months I have also written online articles for Hammersley Homes. I have really enjoyed finding out more about their work and helping to publicise it.
Through volunteering I have been able to draw on my own experience and skills. I have also been able to acquire new one’s. This has helped me to grow in confidence. It has also considerably aided my own ongoing recovery from mental illness.