The Politics of Mental Health Care

It’s been a while, folks. I hope you’re all well. Since we last spoke a lot has happened. I’m currently a parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Democrats in the upcoming Scottish elections. As part of this I attended a hustings last night. This involved myself and representatives from other parties being on a panel and having members of the audience ask us questions about our manifestos and what we would do if elected to the Scottish parliament. In discussion with folk afterwards I had one individual come to me and tell me they were particularly sick of “politicians like you[me]” politicising mental health and using it as a way to point score and make empty promises to gain support from the electorate.

I’ll be honest with you, it floored me. What this individual couldn’t know was that from that event I was heading straight to a friend’s house to spend the night because she was having a really bad day with her depression and asked if I’d come to her because she needed someone who just “got it”. I had two emails waiting for responses from people asking how I’d maneuvered the current mental health system because they were struggling and I had an ongoing facebook conversation with someone requiring support causing my phone to silently go off in my bag the entire evening.

They couldn’t know I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety after leaving school at the age of 18, after having gone to the doctor repeatedly since I was about 15. Having missed more days of school than I should have for feigning other illnesses because the reality of ‘I don’t actually want to exist right now’ wasn’t enough to warrant a permitted absence from the school.

I developed a self harm addiction after my diagnosis because the current system left me to my own devices and I couldn’t find a safe coping mechanism.

I was diagnosed in September of 2011. I was put on a waiting list for psychiatry shortly after that. I was seen for the first time by a psychiatrist in February of 2013.

I was told by the psychiatrist I needed to see the psychologist as well as regular meetings with him. He also told me the psychologist had no space so I was seeing the community psychiatric nurse. The CPN who told me I ‘failed’ every day I didn’t get changed out of pyjamas. Who gave me weird homework as part of cognitive behaviour therapy and screamed “THIS WILL WORK FOR YOU. YOU AREN’T TRYING HARD ENOUGH” when I told her I didn’t find it helpful. The CPN  who then asked if she could discuss my ‘lack of co-operation’ with my mother because she knew my her. I eventually saw the psychologist when I told my psychiatrist that I would not see the CPN again after how I’d been treated.

I have lost count of the times I seriously contemplated suicide. I was taken to hospital because of self harm. I phoned 999 because I knew I’d attempt to kill myself if I didn’t get help in that moment. I got taken to A&E where I was told I was a drain on the NHS.

I’m passionate about this and it’ll be a very long time before I’m quiet on the issue. I don’t want my future children to grow up in a world where any mental health issue is considered anything less than on par with physical conditions. If I had tonsillitis I could go to the doctor tomorrow and if the situation warranted it get medication to help. I wouldn’t need to wait until my tonsils were necrotic and posing a threat to my life. Yet I waited a year and a half to be seen by a professional for a condition that gave me compelling urges to kill myself. If I can help even one person have a less horrible time then I’ll have done something important. Is this a political issue? Yes. Is that the only reason I talk about it at length and will continue to do so? Absolutely not.

The thing is we can’t wait. Mental health funding in Scotland falling every year since 2009 and the Scottish Government’s mental health strategy expiring at the end of last year it’ll be months before a new plan is in place.

The other day my dad said to me “The thing is most people aren’t as vocal as you are on mental health” and I was reminded of Willie Rennie’s speech to Conference in February. He said “We cannot wait any longer for change. For thousands of people who are crying out for help and for the many who cannot be heard anymore because we were simply too late.”

 

(Also because I’d be a bad candidate if I didn’t mention it, if you’re interested in exactly what the Scottish Liberal Democrats are proposing please check out http://www.scotlibdems.org.uk/manifesto. If you’d like to email me to discuss anything you can do so at r.l.plenderleith@gmail.com)

Dear Ken Livingstone

Let me tell you a story.  It’s a story of someone deeply disturbed. He’s the former mayor of London and he believes it’s perfectly okay to lash out at health concerns of people who disagree with him…. oh wait… that’s you.

I was 18 when I was diagnosed with depression. The following couple of years are ones I hope to never have the equal of. I got addicted to self harm. I spent hours staring vacantly at the television from the moment my parents left for work til they came home, at least I did the days I could even get out of bed. The only thing I would watch would be America’s Next Top Model. I’ve no idea why but I think I must have watched almost every episode there is of it. Not that I’d remember since depression has robbed me of parts of my memory.

I’d go walking at 3am once everyone was asleep, in the rain, just so I could feel something. And I got ill then so be it. I didn’t care. I didn’t care about looking before I crossed the road. I didn’t care when I got horrendous oil burns up my arm from cooking. I didn’t care when I was sat in the back of an ambulance with a paramedic attending to my wrist because I’d snapped one day when I was in the house by myself.

I still have depression. It sits on my shoulder and it sucks away at the accomplishment I feel for still being alive. It’s been 3 years since I last hurt myself intentionally. Though as much as I hate to say it, there are flickers of time when I hear such moronic comments like yours, Ken, that I wonder why the hell did I bother to get clean in the first place.

The days of me sitting on my stairs in the dark, crying, bleeding and telling my mother I wanted to be dead may be over. But the impact of depression on my life is what I deal with every single day and will continue to deal with for the rest of my life. But I have a job, I’m in university and I have healthy relationships and friendships. So how dare you suggest that simply because someone has disagreed with you that their illness is behind that?

The old saying of “sticks and stones may hurt my bones but words will never hurt me” is a load of bull. Your words carry weight, regardless of who you are.

Sincerely,

Obviously disturbed and should probably see her GP (even though we have regular progress update meetings)

Mental Health – Scotland’s Massive Failure

‘CAMHS referral targets state that no child should wait more than 18 weeks to be seen. Only 78.9% of children are seen within that time frame. When you look at the statistics for 26 weeks only 7% more are seen by then. That means that 14% of children are not seen by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services after half a year. Here’s the response I received on behalf of our First Minister:

“Some successes to date can be seen in the improvement to Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS), where Scottish Government introduced a waiting times target that stated that from March 2013, no one will wait longer than 26 weeks from referral to treatment for specialist CAMHS – and no longer than 18 weeks from December 2014….We appreciate that there is still much room for improvement and we are working with NHS Boards to support their working in this area.”‘

This is an extract from my blog post after I got a response from someone on behalf of our first minister. Continue reading it here.

It’s World Mental Health day so once again I highlight the huge issues Scotland is facing. Not just in its services for children but across the board. Out of a cross section of 100,000, 14% of adults admit to having a mental health problem. That’s those who have been diagnosed. 10% admit to being alcohol dependent and 18% admit to having attempted suicide.

That’s almost 1 in 5 adults in Scotland having attempted suicide if these statistics are accurate. Once again I call for the Scottish Government to seriously look at mental health care in this country and for Nicola Sturgeon to think before she says things like “If you don’t think we’re doing enough in regards to mental health I have to convince you we are.”

Convince me then. As it certainly doesn’t look like we’re doing enough to me.

Let’s end mental ill-health stigma by … ignoring the mentally ill!

This blog post is going to be the angriest you’ll have read from me in a while. If you follow this blog you’ll remember when I wrote “An Open Letter To Nicola Sturgeon”. I also send that directly to her. Well, not quite. Today I got a response from someone who had been asked to respond on her behalf.

For those of you who haven’t read it and don’t intend to, I’ll sum up quickly. CAMHS referral targets state that no child should wait more than 18 weeks to be seen. Only 78.9% of children are seen within that time frame. When you look at the statistics for 26 weeks only 7% more are seen by then. That means that 14% of children are not seen by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services after half a year. Here’s the response I received on behalf of our First Minister:

Some successes to date can be seen in the improvement to Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS), where Scottish Government introduced a waiting times target that stated that from March 2013, no one will wait longer than 26 weeks from referral to treatment for specialist CAMHS – and no longer than 18 weeks from December 2014….We appreciate that there is still much room for improvement and we are working with NHS Boards to support their working in this area.”

How is that in any way a response? I know all of this, that’s why I included it in my original letter. But don’t worry, they’re “working on it”.

I also mentioned that in the last 5 years – under an SNP majority government – the number of children being hospitalised because of self harm had doubled and that in Scotland alone Childline were reporting a 34% increase in calls from suicidal or depressed children in just one year. None of that was picked up on in the response. I did get this lovely closing statement though:

NHS Health Scotland, the See Me programme and other agencies have been working over recent years to raise awareness of mental health issues and to tackle the stigma which can be associated with mental ill-health. They are currently working together to develop and implement an engagement strategy to influence public perception about suicide and the stigma which can be associated with these issues. The aim here is to continue to raise awareness of mental health and of prevention of suicide and self-harm, and to help people to feel more confident about coming forward for help when they need it.”

If we’re tackling the stigma of mental ill-health then why did I not get a response from Ms Sturgeon herself since I said that her comments specifically were worrying as she had said “I have to convince you we are doing enough” when it comes to mental health provisions in this country. Why does this read like a straight up copy and paste from the government spin book when mental health is concerned? 

I wanted to know what was going to be done to solve the issues I brought up. I was told the work they’re doing – which is failing – is a success. How do we expect our kids to grow and prosper if we can’t give them the help they need now and we call our inadequacies in that respect ‘success’?

“Cut Up Kids”

The title of this post is horrendous, and I’d like to apologise straight off the bat for that. However, I’ve used it for a reason. It’s the title of a tv series that was aired in 2014 about self harming teenagers. Thinking of that title in that context makes me cringe a little bit and I hope it has a similar effect on you. But I’ve used it in an attempt to call attention to how little attention we – and the media – pay to adolescent mental health. The programme itself and the idea behind it I have no problem with. The title however, incredibly insensitive.

If this is the first time you’re reading a blog post of mine, let me give you a little heads up. I’m Becca, and I’m a loudmouth when it comes to mental health. It’s a topic incredibly close to my heart and that’s why I decided to do a little survey on adolescent mental health. It’s still live and can still be taken so if you’d like to do that, click here.

However, I currently have 160 respondents to it and I’ve done an initial analysis that I’d like to share with you. Let’s get one thing out of the way, my survey is not without its issues. The respondents are 70% female, 53% from Scotland and 72% between the ages of 18 – 24.

That being said, let’s get to the analysis.

When asked the question “Do you think mental health disorders are a growing problem among young people or are we simply getting more comfortable talking about them?” the responses were split exactly 50/50.

However, my next question those who felt we were getting more comfortable talking about them was that if they were aware of the 34% increase in calls to Childline from children who were suicidal or suffering from depression. Out of those who did not know that statistic (88%), 20% said they had changed their mind and that we we did have a growing problem with mental health issues in our young people.

There were several questions in which you are required to write in your own answers and – as to be expected – I got about 160 different responses. One thing is clear though, whether it’s a growing problem or we’re more comfortable talking about it, almost every single person believes there’s a significant problem with mental health in adolescents.

The statistics for the under 18s is something that shocked me. Out of those who responded, 94% have recorded at least 2 symptoms of clinical depression, 82% had self harmed and 43% mentioned specifically being suicidal at least one time in their life. 

Out of the largest group, the 18 – 24s (the ones with most recent adolescence experiences bar the under 18s), 62% of respondents had self harmed at least one time in their lives. 

On the whole 91% of respondents knew someone who had self harmed.

When asked “Is there more pressure on young people today than in previous generations?” which was a compulsory question, 87% said yes.

When asked about the NHS’s dealing with mental health issues in general (a non compulsory question that everyone from the UK chose to answer), less than 13% were positive comments. And in those positive remarks were still statements like “Doing an OK job” or “Could be improved significantly.” One response even blamed the NHS for their loss of teeth by refusing to take their bulimia seriously until it was too late and they required sectioning.

Like I said, this is still the first stage of analysis regarding the survey. There are still responses coming in as I write this post which will be taken into consideration when I close the survey in the next couple of days. There are MANY more things that still need analysed. However I feel a lot can be taken from this so far. The self harm statistics alone shocked me as an ex-self harmer.

Regardless of whether it’s a growing problem or not, it’s still a problem we have and the evidence for that is clear. It’s a problem that we have and we’re having funding cut for it. In England alone there has been a 6% cut to mental health services for children which may not sound huge but has left a £50 million deficit that is simply unacceptable. Our response to mental health in general is unacceptable and there’s too much stigma around it to get the services we require. That needs to change. Sooner, because we may not have a later.