Since starting to have mental health problems and then being sectioned, I’ve learned about things I never imagined existed or would need to know about.
- I’ve learned that being taken to hospital by police counts as an arrest that could show up on checks done for prospective employers.
- I’ve learned about the Work Capability Assessment, Atos and Employment Support Allowance and that, even if your doctor’s certificate is for mental health, you’ll still be asked to touch your toes.
- I’ve learned that mental health problems are often treated with purely physical means, and that merely keeping someone alive is seen as success enough.
- I’ve learned that getting treatment for mental health problems can be a test of endurance: nearly three years post-discharge, I’m still waiting for talking therapy.
- I’ve learned that, even though mental health services are already badly under-funded, they are being cut more than physical health services.
- I’ve learned that what goes on behind the closed doors of a mental health ward doesn’t matter, because no one sees and no one believes you or wants to listen either inside or when you get out.
- I’ve learned that, though you don’t have to justify treating cancer, we still have to make an economic case for alleviating mental distress in a bid to get treatments funded.
- I’ve learned there’s a gap between being too unwell to qualify for help (when you’re excluded from IAPT services) and not being ill enough (when you can get the full works, including a community psychiatric nurse, social worker, occupational therapist, care coordinator and support worker); and that, in that gap, people like me are parked on meds and benefits to quietly while away our existence.
- I’ve learned all sorts of weird DIY coping mechanisms to mask my difficulties, to get through the day and to try to pass for normal. I’ve become good at improvising, but I’d rather be living life to the full.
- I’ve learned that acceptance and lowering my expectations are helpful; and that, sometimes, low expectations may later need to be lowered still further.
- I’ve learned that, unlike when someone has a broken leg, insight into (and self-awareness of) your own symptoms and distress is somehow seen to mean you don’t need help urgently or, indeed, at all.
- I’ve learned that, though A&E doctors describe it as “like a war zone”, it’s where people in mental health crisis and distress are told to go.
- I’ve learned that, though paramedics have no mental health training, people in mental distress are told to call 999 for an ambulance.
- I’ve learned that children in mental distress are held in police cells (also here); and that all that prompts is hand-wringing and promises to try to do better.
- I’ve learned about concepts from activism and human rights campaigning, like derailing, gaslighting, mansplaining and tone policing.
- I’ve learned what it’s like living in homeless hostels from people who are living there now; and that (if I’m lucky and can persuade the council to put a roof over my head) that’s where I could end up this year (for example, see here and here).
- I’ve learned that forced treatment casts a long shadow. That, though ward staff may see it as a short-term fix, it can cause long-term harm.
When I was sectioned, I never imagined I’d learn these things.