Meet the Voices of Mind

Meet our Voices of Mind - ten volunteers, with lived experience of mental health problems, who are campaigning with us to put mental health at the heart of the general election debate.

Andy Hollinghurst, Yorkshire and the Humber

Andy portrait

Up until 2005, Andy was - on the surface - a successful, competent head teacher. Below the surface, he was experiencing debilitating anxiety and depression. He hid these feelings for as long as he could, but after a complete emotional breakdown was signed off work. After six months on sick leave his employers decided to terminate his contract. At this point, Andy found he fell through a gaping hole in the system – he was considered fit for work by Atos (although his employers had felt otherwise) and initially wasn't granted incapacity benefit. He appealed this decision and won. On top of this, his GP refused to support his claim for a teacher's pension or refer him to see a psychiatrist, saying he was "not ill enough" - Andy had to pay to see a consultant privately.

People with mental health problems need to be treated as individuals. A rounded assessment to determine financial support - beyond the limited time spent with an Atos assessor - must be a matter of course.

Watch Andy talking about stigma.

Watch Andy talking about back-to-work support.

Anne-Marie Clarke, London

Anne Marie portrait

Anne-Marie has struggled with depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts for many years. At times, she's found the care she received very far from what she needed. After taking an overdose and being admitted to hospital, she found staff lacked understanding and compassion and she was left on her own feeling alone and scared.

Talking therapy has helped, giving her a chance to speak openly about her thoughts and feelings without fear of judgement or discrimination, but she has had to wait a long time for this treatment.

Getting access to a mental health service is like getting blood from a stone at times. The wait was long and hard and in the meantime I relapsed and ended up back in hospital, feeling rejected, isolated and misunderstood. I felt failed by mental health services.

Watch Anne-Marie discuss talking therapies.

Watch Anne-Marie talk about back-to-work support.

Becki Luscombe, West Midlands

Becki portrait

Last year Becki experienced a mental health crisis due to emotionally unstable personality disorder, depression and anxiety. She visited her local A&E and was relieved to find there was a clear procedure for patients experiencing a mental health crisis and that staff treated her with respect.

She was admitted to a general psychiatric ward for a week and afterwards received follow up support from a home treatment team. Unfortunately, she hasn't always received such great care, and has also faced stigma from mental health professionals.

Sadly, Becki passed away in September 2014. Her family have asked that we continue to feature her in our campaign and we are proud to honour that request.

Through my own mixed experiences, I believe passionately that access to mental health services need to be on the government's agenda. Our voices must be heard - it could transform and save lives.

Watch Becki talking about stigma.

David Hill, South West

Five years ago, David had a heart attack. As he recovered, he began to feel increasingly anxious. His GP perscribed antidepressants and recommended counselling. David was worried that alcohol could react badly with antidepressants and, before a celebration with friends, stopped taking them. This lead to 'a near catastrophic mental breakdown', resulting in the crisis care team and other agencies becoming involved in his care.

David's own family were of a generation that did not understand mental health issues very well and were not able to offer suitable support. The 'pull yourself together' attitude was widespread. He was no doubt influenced by this when first seeking help.

My father's views were not his fault and he should not be blamed for these as no in-depth awareness of such issues then existed, but I want to make sure the next generation responds differently.

Watch David talking about stigma.

Fiona Raje, North East

Fiona portrait

Fiona's treatment resistant depression has made day-to-day living extremely challenging. On top of the difficulty of coping with her symptoms, she's had to deal with stigma and discrimination from an employer, who was unsupportive when she needed time off to cope with a medication change and side effects, eventually forcing her to resign from her job.

She's had excellent care from her combined medical team (GP, counsellor and psychiatrist), which she describes as "a model of understanding and compassion".

Mental health problems can happen to anyone, people need to realise this. Imagine it was you. For someone with depression and anxiety, understanding from their employer is as important as it is from family and friends.

James Downs, Wales

James portrait

James has experienced very different crisis care depending on where he has been living. After attempting suicide in Bristol in 2011, he was helped by an excellent, well-structured crisis team, but after moving to Cardiff, he became ineligible for the same services because his prime diagnosis, an eating disorder, did not fit the team's criteria.

Over the years James has often struggled to access the specialist services he needed for his eating disorder - only after six years did he manage to access specialist psychological therapy. The many years he went without support have had a profound impact on his life, including forcing him to give up his medical degree.

It is a false economy not to invest in psychological therapies at an early stage. Early intervention would prevent so many problems in the long-run which have a great financial and personal cost.

Read James's blog about visiting Parliament.

Watch James discuss talking therapies.

Watch James discuss wellbeing and prevention.

John Lucas, East of England

John's portrait

John is 51 and lives in supported housing.  He has multiple mental health diagnoses – bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety and a personality disorder – as well as physical diagnoses including heart disease and prostate cancer.

John has experienced very different quality of care for his mental health compared to his physical health.  Within 18 days of an initial visit to his GP he had a diagnosis of prostate cancer with a full care and treatment plan put in place by his cancer consultant.  In contrast, when experiencing mental health crises, promised telephone calls and visits from the crisis team have not materialised and he has been left for years without an adequate treatment and support plan.

Why does the NHS pull out all stops to stop me dying of physical health problems but does not care if I die of mental health problems? Without the intervention of a friend, I would be dead.

Kirsty McGregor, North west

Kirsty's portrait

Kirsty was diagnosed with bipolar disorder recently at the age of 26. She first experienced mental health problems at 14 and was prescribed antidepressants at 17 but wasn't offered any other form of support.

In the intervening years she had several mental health crises and never got the support she needed, despite asking various GPs and other health professionals for help. She has also supported friends during mental health crises and this has given her little faith in crisis teams - Kirsty says she wouldn't go to A&E in a crisis as she would feel she was wasting her time.

I want to make sure politicians are aware of the scale of mental ill health and the massive voids in mental health care provision, which I, and many thousands of others with similar stories, have experienced.

Watch Kirsty discuss talking therapies.

Shalini Bhalla, South East

Shalini's portrait

When Shalini was experiencing severe depression she was so worried about what her family and friends would think, she didn't tell them about it. She was worried that people wouldn’t understand and the shame was too much to bear.

She had to give up a well-paid, successful career as her employers were sympathetic to a point, but were uncertain about how to deal with her illness, especially with her being off ill or in hospital. She now runs her own dance and wellbeing business – inspired by her experience of depression.

Coming from an Asian background, I want more awareness in BME communities to accept that mental health is a very important issue and that mental illnesses are real.

Watch Shalini discuss wellbeing and prevention.

Violet Skinner, East Midlands

Violet's portrait

Violet was diagnosed with depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder six years ago. She was initially supported by a local mental health team and recovered, but when she became ill again, she was told that team no longer existed due to budget cuts.

Before becoming too unwell to work, Violet experienced stigma from some work colleagues. She's also experienced stigma from members of her extended family who don't believe her mental health problems are real, calling her "lazy" and telling her to "pull herself together" which has been very upsetting for Violet and her parents.

The current level of care the government provides is poor, and I think mental health care should be equal to physical health care.

Watch Violet talking about stigma.

Read Violet's blog about how she challenged stigma.

Watch Violet discuss talking therapies.

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