Letter to the Mental Health Services Directorate

Recently, I received the opportunity to participate in a Mental Health Directorate public Consultation. For the sake of all Mental Health Services users, I thought it was important for me to make my comments public.

This is what I wrote:

Dear Ms xxxxxxxxx,

Thank you for sending me a copy of the Consultation papers for the Redesign of Mental Outreach and Day Services. I appreciate the opportunity to comment.

My intention was to attend one of the public presentations but the nature of my illness and the effects of the medication cocktail I take converge to render me unpredictably unreliable, hence this e-mail response.

My comments are thus:

  • I approve of the suggestions that are made in the paper you sent me and I encourage you with all my heart to make a success of their implementation. Working in mental health is not an easy task.

  • Having said that, I am very concerned that those suggestions may only be beneficial to one group of mental health services users. The other will not be helped by those suggestions.

  • Talking about mental illness is challenging. Because of it, I will attempt to make myself clear by using a 'physical' equivalent.

The suggestions contained in the consultation paper are excellent for mentally disabled patient - i.e. the mental equivalent of people constrained to a wheelchair. They equate to making mental health access doors wider and making sure there are ramps at all points of access. This is indeed essential BUT it is not sufficient.

Serious researchers say that by 2050, two thirds of the population will have some sort of mental illness. This worries me a great deal because these affected people will be people like me. They will have been functioning in our society, working, parenting, etc., until they hit a crisis. This is what happened to me: four years ago I suffered a massive breakdown and I am still slowly recovering after a multitude of drugs, electro-convulsive therapy (ECT), and more drugs still. In my own immediate neighbourhood two other people, younger than I am but equally well educated and holding equally demanding jobs, have also suffered from severe clinical depression. For me and other people like me, time-limited interventions, drop-in coffee mornings and other such support groups is the LAST thing we need. Our legs might be held together with chemical pins and we may be limping very badly but the last thing we need is to be stuck together with people in wheelchairs (even if we feel huge compassion for them).

What we need is this: we need to be accompanied for months - if not years - on a one-to-one basis by someone who reminds us that we could once walk, tells us repeatedly that we will walk again, encourages us to walk, and walks by our side one step at a time. Anything else, in terms of mental health support, is of no use to us. If anything, the sort of group socialising mentioned in the paper could actually make us feel worse, that is if we could even get ourselves to a meeting! All other depressed people I have spoken to (uni-polar or bi-polar like me) have all said the same thing: in the worst moments of their illness, they can't bear being surrounded by other people.  Sadly, for the mentally ill - as opposed to the mentally disabled - suggestions (b)  to (e) of the Consultation paper are mostly irrelevant.

What will happen to the two thirds of the population affected in the years to come if mental health support services continue to confuse two populations that have totally different needs? I worry about that.

When I had ECT treatment, I was asked for my feedback on a regular basis. I am surprised (and frustrated too) that nobody has ever asked me for any feedback on the one-to-one support my 'accompanying companion' J continues to provide me with at Corner House. I value those regular conversations (and the fact that I can also talk to her over the phone if needs be) more than I can say. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 10 is the very best mark, I would give her a 12. That's how crucial her role has been in my recovery. Yet, nobody has ever asked me anything about the value of her support. What a shame..... It is only when we measure the things that really make a difference that we stand a chance of improving anything. Regrettably, anything else amounts to little more than polishing turds.....

I hope my comments will make a valued contribution to the Consultation. I am happy to be contacted further if this were helpful to you and your team.

With my warmest regards

It is my most sincere hope that what I have written will have some impact on the deliberations currently taking place.... Wish me luck!

Did you post...

The Consultation papers elsewhere? It would be helpful to see what exactly you are talking about in this entry of your blog. I hope so because I found this (the second page I read in first discovering your blog,) blog entry very very interesting. BTW The Comfort Compass referred me to your page.



Thank you Anonymous

That's a good point. No I didn't post the consultation papers anywhere because I received them through the pot in paper form.  I send my reply by email hence the above entry.

Also, although I think my reply is valid for mental health support services in general, the consultation papers were issued by my regional health authority in the UK - i.e.within a fairly narrow context - so I am not sure people in the US or Australia (to name but two other English speaking countries) would have felt concerned. 

I could be wrong of course. It wouldn't be the first time :D 

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