Please, I’m desperate. Can somebody help me?
Posted Thursday 28 October 2010
This guest post is published on the day Mind and the We need to talk coalition start discussions with the Government about how best to ensure that the new money promised for talking treatments is spent properly.
I had a huge wake up call a year and a half ago, when I discovered that the mental health care that I needed simply wasn’t available in the county I had moved to. I had moved just before I had my baby boy to be close to family, and in preparation for this, I had ensured that my notes had been passed on to the new health teams and that my GP was aware of my history. I then had a very traumatic birth experience with long lasting physical consequences and then dropped into a severe bipolar depression complicated by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What happened next was…. very little. Recommendations for long term or urgent psychotherapy came to naught. Meds reviews were shifted between individuals and never produced any action. The acute ward was not appropriate for a mother with a tiny baby. There were no beds available in any specialist wards. The waiting list for the only psychotherapy on offer, a short course of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), was at least seven months long. Three months after giving birth, even with an urgent referral from my GP, the earliest the psychiatrist could see me was another six weeks. Having asked for help from all and sundry only to be told I couldn’t have any, I gave up hope of ever recovering and tried to take my life.
Fortunately for my tiny and beautiful son, I was unsuccessful and after a stay in a high dependency unit, I was discharged into the care of my family until a bed became available at a Mother and Baby Unit out of the area.
I spent three months there while medication and physical health issues for me and my baby were addressed, therapies begun and more recommendations made. During this time, I discovered that in the neighbouring county there were all sorts of support available, planned and integrated treatment approaches, counselling, psychotherapy, social assistance, arts therapies, support groups, and specialist psychiatrists. Upon discharge back home, I once again found there was nothing available to me other than contact with a CPN and another psychiatrist on rotation. It took eight weeks from discharge to even get an appointment with this psychiatrist due to ‘staff holidays’.
I had to give up work. I tried every avenue available with full cooperation from my employer to make adjustments to allow me to continue my beloved job, but I couldn’t cope and was forced to resign and apply for Employment and Support Allowance. I was in a vicious cycle of needing to address my continuing issues through psychotherapy to start healing, but not being able to get it, and knowing that this in itself was exacerbating the depression. My family is now paying for me to have private therapy, which started immediately and gives me some hope that I may be able to resume my life sometime soon.
So, why were NICE Guidelines not met? Lack of resources. I would have received CBT in primary care, but the resources for secondary care have been consistently cut in my area. I feel strongly that if I had been able to start treatment within a couple of months of needing it, I would not have lost hope to the extent of feeling the only way to stop the pain was death. Probably I would have been able to deal with the issues which 20 months later are still affecting my everyday life; I certainly don’t lack the motivation to do so.
Maybe then hospitalisation, at great expense, would have been avoided. Perhaps if some appropriate support had been on offer, I would have recovered quickly and been able to successfully return to work. I might not have spent my life savings and got into debt trying not to default on the mortgage, my family may not have suffered financially trying to support me, I would not be relying on benefits, I would not be feeling unsupported and ignored, not to mention angry and appalled that a life threatening illness can be routinely left untreated because there are no resources to treat it.
More importantly, the first 20 months of my little boy’s life have been irretrievably affected and they shouldn’t have been.
I joined in Mind’s We need to talk campaign because I need to have hope for my own future, for my son’s future and because for anyone suffering from a mental health condition it is totally, utterly, unacceptable that they are not properly treated. I sincerely hope that the government promises of extra funding are followed through, and that appropriate, effective, timely treatment is provided to everyone equally: chronic or acute, new mum, child, adult or pensioner. Measures need to be put in place to ensure that health authorities are able to follow or exceed NICE Guidelines, that resources are allocated not just to primary care, but to secondary and tertiary, and that mental healthcare is not a postcode lottery.
People are dying because our NHS does not have the ability to treat them. To the politicians, NHS service commissioners and anyone else with the power to make change happen: please help by following through with your promise to increase funding.
Jenny Frost is a service user whose story appeared in our We need to talk report.
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