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We Need Accessibility This Mental Health Awareness Week, not Pretty Speeches

Trigger warning: this article mentions suicidal thoughts and suicide, in particular the deaths by suicide of Robin Williams and Caroline Flack.

The moment I opened my Twitter feed on Monday morning, I was greeted by the hashtag I’d secretly been dreading: #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek.

This isn’t because I’m against raising awareness, quite the opposite, but I emphatically dislike the way in which lip service is paid to mental health rather than genuine support. Most of the people I see on my socials share the same disillusionment. We’re tired of being told to reach out when in need, that everyone understands, only to be met with indifference when we act on this.

A vicious cycle is formed, one that only deviates slightly when a celebrity suicide is annouced, though the empathy is momentary. Before long, the stream of posts asking for better support fade out as people move on with their lives; they have the luxury of being able to forget that we’re so desperately in need.

If I sound cynical, it comes from years of conditioning. From seeing the government, and a lot of the general public, refuse to demand justice for us when we need it most.

Mental illness and poor mental health is killing us, with a 17% increase in suicide rates seen between 2017 and 2019 alone. We’re struggling in our thousands, calling out for someone to take notice, yet notice is only given when it’s too late. I know this all too well because I’ve experienced it myself far too many times.

When Robin Williams died, I saw some of my old university friends post about how awful mental illness is, and how we need to do more. The same way they quickly rushed to do much of the same when Caroline Flack died too.

I wish I could say it filled me with relief to see them so invested in mental health, but it infuriated me – these are the same girls who’d left me having a breakdown in a toilet cubicle on a night out because I was “ruining their night”.

I was an inconvenience to their fun. These same girls are the ones who tormented people throughout the second and third years of uni by using tactics that should have been left in schoolyard playgrounds.

Unfortunately, it isn’t just friends and family that can fail you, it’s the mental health services put in place to help us. Ever since I first went to therapy in my early teens, I’ve been passed from pillar to post, with most of them reluctant to commit beyond a Generalised Anxiety and Depression diagnosis.

It was only when I tried to end my own life that they started to believe something more was going on, and even then, I was met with ignorance. 

I tried time and again to explain my erratic moods, how I could be perfectly happy one minute then raging the next, but their solution was to simply up my meds.

Even as I got older and pushed to learn more about myself, I was met with so-called specialists who lacked the empathy needed to deal with mental illness.

“Rage? I’m sorry, but I can’t imagine you like that, you’re always so calm and polite, I just can’t believe you ever behave in that way.” Those were the words of not one but two different counsellors when I tried to explain how distressing my behaviour had become.

To them, it seemed so impossible that I could be okay one minute than not the next. But to me, that’s the epitome of what depression entails: it’s chaos.

Not once in my life have I felt peace from my mental illness. I can sometimes feel happy, but it only lasts a few hours, soon replaced with anxiety, fear, and grief.

The last time I had a severe depressive episode, one which had me wandering the streets late on Christmas Eve, my partner was at home frantically trying to get the local Crisis Team to give a damn. Their advice? Call the police. Since I’d left the house, they were no longer able to help.

A lifeline that was given to me during a therapy session, in which I was told they’d be able to help, proved inefficient. My partner was left frightened for my safety, unable to do little else but call the police.

The moment I knew they were involved, my actions became even more irrational. The police aren’t a presence I naturally welcome, nor do they strike me as being understanding; some of them might be, but that’s the exception rather than the rule.

When you’re ready to take your own life, seeing uniformed police doesn’t calm the situation, it worsens it.

Even after repeated incidents like that, I still got discharged from the local mental health hospital last year. I tried to fight for more support, but they’d already made their decision.

They did offer me some advice before I was officially discharged, however – to use the tools I’ve already gained and see how I go.

Responses like that are unacceptable, and part of the reason why awareness isn’t enough.

My life has been stuck on repeat because of consistent failings, only made worse by a government that neither cares or wants to help mental health services.

They hide behind pretty speeches, yet accessibility to the services that could save our lives is severely lacking.

Mental Health Awareness Week needs to go beyond raising awareness, because we’re done with that. We’ve got awareness in abundance – what we haven’t got are services we can access.

If you are struggling with self harm in any of its forms, please seek help. Contact your GP, or visit any of the websites below for help. 

Mind – Self-Harm

Self Injury Support – Support for Women and Girls

Self-Harm Support from Samaritans

If you are in immediate danger of hurting yourself, or have already hurt yourself and need immediate medical attention, call 999 (or the equivalent emergency number in your country) and ask for an ambulance.

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