“One in four people will suffer a mental health problem at some point in their life” – something that caught my eye on Twitter the other day.
Having recently visited the Leeds mental health charity Touchstone, and with visits to some of our Adult Social Care mental health providers, the item particularly resonated.
It also resonated as my sister suffered from schizophrenia until she died in 2006. Ever since that point I have always felt I should be doing my part to raise awareness of mental health and be an advocate for improvements to services for people who experience mental health problems and their families and carers.
My sister was a highly intelligent, creative soul who started displaying symptoms in her late teens. This came to a head when she had a breakdown whilst studying nursing in London. It was probably a few years down the line before a formal diagnosis of schizophrenia was given and for significant periods she lived a relatively stable life. She did however suffer many periods of great mental distress. She hated the medication she was prescribed, believing it was damaging her body, and often declined to take it. For periods she would disappear, later revealing she was sleeping rough. She attempted suicide a couple of times including a thankfully failed attempt to jump off a bridge. Periods of time were spent sectioned and through this time, we (her family), did our best to support someone who sometimes, simply did not want to be contacted. It was of course hardest for my parents but also for me and my brother too.
At that time, getting help and advice as a family member or carer seemed difficult and the health and care systems complicated and dehumanising. My sister, found comfort however from writing poetry and singing and often could be found gigging at The Grove Pub in Leeds, where a beautiful smiling photo of her adorned the wall next to singing greats such as Little Richard and Van Morrison. She clearly felt at ease here and we will always be grateful to the good souls at The Grove who simply allowed her to be herself. Tragically, my sister died in January 2006 aged 33 having suffered a suspected brain haemorrhage. A very sad end to a sometimes happy but often tortured short life.
Seven years on what do services for people experiencing mental health problems look like? What is it like as a service user negotiating your way around the system? What support is there for carers/family members? How does this work in mental health?
I am keen to explore some of these issues hence my visit to Touchstone a few weeks ago, where I spoke to staff and service users and I’ll be visiting other third sector and public sector services over the coming weeks. It is also why I was really pleased to see some of our Adult Social Care provision at Cottingley Court and Lovell Park. What really struck me was the commitment and passion for the job of our mental health teams. The members of staff I spoke to said how much they loved the work that they are doing and this was reflected in the high quality care service users received and the way they were treated. I would like to think that the recently built high quality temporary and permanent accommodation we provide for people with mental health problems with wrap around support such as at Cottingley Court, may have been something my sister would have found appropriate. And it is a great tribute to our staff that despite difficult decisions that were taken to change some of our mental health services, such as at the Vale, which I visited, service users have helped to shape what those changed services will look like.
That tweet I mentioned at the start had a link to the following description of one person’s experience of mental health.
“I act like everything is fine. I laugh at people’s jokes, I do silly things with my friends and I act like I have a carefree life. It’s funny though. When I come back home, I just turn off that mental switch. Then suddenly I break down. I feel alone, empty, tired, I can’t exactly describe how I feel into words. It’s like I have two different me’s. Only if they knew. Only if”.
Let’s remember mental health doesn’t discriminate, it can affect anyone. That’s why mental health is everyone’s problem.