Unhelpfully there are many negative stereotypes presented routinely across our society, which serve to strengthen unhelpful beliefs and attitudes towards those who experience mental health issues. There are few portrayals in the media of people who are working hard to manage mental distress and who are living their lives positively.
More often than not we will see a snapshot of a tragedy on the TV or in the Newspapers & social media and it plays to the dark and dangerous, often reaffirming that people who suffer from psychosis are to be feared.
My daughter is the least aggressive person I know. The characteristics that make her unique are beautiful, kind, clever and talented. There are periods when she struggles with mental distress but the only fear I see, is within her.
We have the opportunity to learn more about living with Mental Health challenges, from those with lived experience. We need to hear them and we need to see them in paid employment as peer workers. There are many people living successfully with voices and many other forms of mental health challenges, I commend them and hope we make it a priority to hear their stories and learn from what they believe helps them the most.
I believe we also need to explore the barriers within the Mental Health Service itself. How can we accept hospital and community services that do not offer sufficient time to listen or support therapeutically when someone is pleading for help?
It’s not and will never be acceptable to me to know that when my daughter was desperately trying to communicate her emotional pain in hospital and there was no time to hear her, the only relief she could find, was to harm herself.
When my daughter is in crisis and in hospital I am overjoyed to the point of delirium when I know she has a care plan and has been involved in the making of it. I can sleep at night when I know she has had talk time with her key nurse. During admissions it’s safe to say, I don’t sleep much.
It is sad because initially I really did have hope that hospital would be the best place for her mind to heal. I now essentially believe it is the place where she will be medicated until the acute episode has improved and her life is not at quite so much risk.
Can I ask those of you who work with people experiencing mental distress, whether in the community or hospital setting, to think about the barriers within the systems you work with. Are they helping you provide the quality of time and interaction that people in acute mental distress really need and how are you asking them “What do you need and what matters to you?”
This is not a criticism – I have seen how hard you work. It is however a plea to do things differently.
I can honestly say that the most progress for my daughter has been made when a member of staff she trusts has taken the time to listen to her, or help her think and work through a difficult issue. Sometimes she has waited all day for just five minutes of time to do this.
Think about the importance of human relationships and connections. When someone is disconnected from the world, being helped kindly and compassionately to reconnect again is one of the most important things you can support them with.
Investment in more flexible and wide ranged therapeutic services is in desperate need for prioritisation. Medication can only ever be part of the answer. I have often seen the same people during different admissions for my daughter. This leads me to wonder just what is missing from our mental health services?
I have a picture in my mind of people wading through the missing pieces of their lives, which are strewn all over the floor. Unable to identify what belongs to them they hold pieces up to the light trying to find something familiar then move to a revolving door – outside, back in, outside, back in again.
Managers please think about how you can organise freeing up your staff for more therapeutic time on the ward. The computer notes and care plans will be all the better for it and they may actually begin to record real progress and positive change in people’s lives.