I speak from bitter experience of mental illness. I have experienced the best and worst of psychiatry. The best came just a few years ago when I finally was diagnosed correctly and the doctors admitted they didn’t know how to help me. It was a groundbreaking moment to be told by one psychiatrist that he had no idea how to help me because nobody had ever admitted that before, although I had known it was true. My story reflects how little understanding there is of mental illness. I was successfully treated eventually but the unit I was treated in closed four years later. My story also reflects how psychiatry is now going backwards.
Image by Alachua County (view licence details)
Psychiatry is an underfunded discipline that has never received the interest of government to help it develop much past its all too frequent approach of containing patients away from society and using drugs as sticking plasters. This piece on the BMA website is very informative and clearly indicates that the medical profession also believe psychiatry needs investing in.
Most psychiatric drugs do little more than treat the symptoms of illness rather than attack the causes of illness. For many people that means a lifetime of swallowing tablets, suffering side effects that can destroy any quality of life and being labelled as dysfunctional and a less worthy individual by the rest of society.
For psychiatric treatment to be successful it requires the cooperation of the patient with clinicians. When care is lacking or feels abusive then patients will only be angry and uncooperative. I was angry myself for many years and it was just as harmful to me as it was frustrating for those who attempted to treat me. I was not alone in feeling like this and I am sure there are many who still feel like this. Good services will inspire the cooperation of patients and make treatment more likely to be successful.
The harm that mental illness can inflict on sufferers and their friends and families must not be underestimated.
But now those suffering mental illness are subjected to Work Capability Assessments and assessments for PIP which are both heavily weighted against them, regardless of the extent of their disability.
Mental illness carries with it a high likelihood of poverty and of alienation from others due to discrimination and stigmatisation.
But I have never met anyone who chose mental illness or is deserving of mental illness.
It would make sense to start a more intelligent and holistic view of mental illness that does not damn those who suffer and aims to find treatment that is a cure as opposed to a sticking plaster.
But that would take a government to ensure adequate funds were available. A government that would make sure there were adequate inpatient beds available. A government that would accept that therapeutic input from psychologists and counsellors may also be necessary if the patient wants them. And, a government committed to tackling stigma and discrimination.
Many people would say that was a lot to ask for. But perhaps if we spent more on helping those with mental illness recover we would end the revolving door scenario that so many psychiatric inpatient units reflect.
To spend more on mental health may mean in the end spending less.
My own story ended with a stay in a hospital run along the lines of a therapeutic community. My life was turned around in just two years. After the many years I have spent in a variety of inpatient units and living a life that was seriously dysfunctional when I did live independently, I walked out of that unit to see a world that looked very different. And I have not had another day in hospital since.
Although I was never given a concrete reason why that hospital closed despite seeking one, the fact that it cost slightly more to run than the average acute unit was probably a major factor.
To close services that can end mental illness is a false economy and can only lead to the destruction of many lives with endless years of expense for the mental health services.
Investing in lives is morally correct as well as an economically sound idea. If we invest in one life of a sufferer we are also investing in the lives of their friends and family. We can, as a nation, only benefit.
But mental health care has to be far more than just a new approach to clinical services. We need to recognise the importance of strong communities in preventing mental illness and the importance of giving our children security as they grow up and a realistic feeling of hope for their future.
We need to accept that welfare reform leaves claimants with a constant fear that the money they have maybe taken away at a moment’s notice through no fault of their own. Work Capability Assessments are demoralising, frightening and unfair. I suspect that assessments for PIP will be the same. The negativity an individual may experience because of all this is not conducive to good mental health.
I was fortunate enough to have managed to avoid ever being placed on a police section. But too many vulnerable and sick patients are now being forced to endure nights in police cells to keep them safe.
This all has to stop. Our whole treatment of mental illness is inhumane, costly and damaging for all.