Today marks the beginning of Mental Health Awareness Week and I can’t help thinking, what’s the point in raising awareness when the state of our mental health system is in disarray? Are we setting people up for disappointment, encouraging them to open up about their struggles yet being unable to offer treatment or therapy? We preach openness, tolerance, empathy, but our words don’t quite measure up, because at the end of the day, a serious mental health problem isn’t cured by raising awareness. A problem shared is a problem halved, yes, but that problem doesn’t go away just by sharing. It needs treating – medically and professionally – by people who truly know what they are dealing with and people who are equipped to help. Sadly, that kind of treatment just isn’t available to the breathtaking number in need.
Several days ago, my best friend tried to kill herself. Twelve hours later, she was sent home from hospital with nothing more than a number to call ‘if she needed to.’ She was vulnerable and desperate and afraid and she was turned away from the place that vows to improve the health of our country, mental health included. It was not through unkindness or a misunderstanding of her illness and its severity, it was merely because the NHS does not have the money or the resources or the staff to help. I’m sure it broke the hearts of the doctors and nurses and psychs who treated her just as much as it did mine.
The trouble is, this kind of incomplete, insufficient treatment isn’t a rarity. Our news is peppered with similar stories, often with heartbreakingly worse outcomes. The anorexic teenager discharged from hospital with no support system in place, who went on to commit suicide just a matter of days later. The chain of failures that led to a vulnerable new mother killing herself and her newborn baby girl. Guidelines for mental health care are continually and consistently breached, leaving society’s most vulnerable individuals isolated and alone, at the mercy of their thoughts and anguished emotions. In these moments of utter desolation and desperation, it’s no surprise that suicide morphs into the only option.
Awareness is crucial, and mental health should be talked about every single day, in schools and universities and homes and workplaces. There should not be a single scrap of stigma attached to something that will affect one in four of us throughout our lifetime. But awareness shouldn’t replace action. It shouldn’t be used as a way to pretend the mental health crisis is being tackled when in reality, nothing is changing and cuts are continuous. Action will always, always speak louder than words and that action is what we so desperately need.
Mental health beds should be available to anyone, anywhere. Specialist staff need to be trained and appointed. GPs need to be well educated in the vast spectrum of mental illness. Charities need to be supported and promoted. Patients at risk of suicide should not be prematurely dismissed. Children in crisis should not be locked in police cells for their own safety. Teenagers should not be transported hundreds of miles from their homes in order to be treated.
Mental health care shouldn’t be a postcode lottery or a privilege for the lucky few. It should be extensive and empathetic and exemplary, and it should encompass every single person, or people will die. People are dying. And we cannot sit back and let this happen.