It’s World Mental Health Day. I’ve put a picture of a goat lying down and you’re probably wondering what the hell that’s got to do with anything. You’d be justified in wondering, I would too. I took this picture whilst on holiday last week in Zakynthos. This was the first proper holiday I have ever been on, the fact I was there was a minor miracle in itself, but as I meandered through the lonely hills of the island, away from the hustle & bustle of the tourist town of Alikanas where I was staying, I came across this goat. He was lying in a barren bit of land, attached to a pretty run down small holding, looking pretty glum in his own world. He wasn’t aware of the hardships of the island, the fact that everyone on it works 7 days a week just to make ends meet, that the Greek economy is such that the potential of this island can’t truly be met. The financial infrastructure isn’t there to back it up. The potential is there to see (there are some absolute beauty spots), but the people are letting it go to rack & ruin and seem to be just ticking over, leaving vast areas spoilt by unsightly rubbish and abandoned building projects. The goat reminded me of my own state of mind. He was locked in his own misery, just there with no apparent purpose (although probably used for milk), whilst the world around him carried on doing what it did, whether that be to tick over or, as we are more fortunate than the Greeks, to progress. I’m digressing at the moment – Asperger’s – I’ll get where I’m going shortly.
An update on my health. I’m still where I was, although an admission. I’ve developed bulimia. I use it to keep myself in check when anorexia isn’t enough, when I’m not strong enough to restrict. Wow, I can’t believe I’ve just typed such a weak minded thing, but that in itself is an indicator of just how bad I am. So, anorexia, bulimia, borderline personality disorder and Asperger’s – it’s little wonder that my latest letter from my psychiatrist again uses the word “complex” to describe my case. My weight is low, my strength is rubbish and my mind weak. My mood is stable but best described as “numb” and I’ve got little appetite for life at the moment. I have no goals to speak of and there are no treatment aims being talked about. The eating disorders team have made no contact since putting me on this “break” and I can’t see that changing. Heaven knows what will happen. Maybe the posts will stop one day – and that will be a sign that the whole thing ended badly. So yeah, that’s that. Oh – Wolves are doing well though. There has to be ONE positive, and that’s one that will always make me smile!!
So, World Mental Health Day. Why do we have to have one day when attention is brought to this issue? Should awareness not be something that should be accepted by now? Is it a case where for one day everyone is made aware that people suffer with mental illness and tomorrow people forget? Does the media forget that for people like me and the millions across the world with a mental illness there are 364 other days where this is STILL part of our lives? And WHY is this still needing to be highlighted in the way it is? Why is there still this stigma? Do we have a World Broken Leg day? Because that’s a normal, that’s something you can see so therefore it’s legitimised. Well let me tell you something. Have a look at me if you ever can. My mental illness has physical repercussions. I’d post a picture of myself in just my underwear if I didn’t think it would be triggering to some people just to show that there are physical consequences to some of the mental illnesses I suffer from. Would it get the message across to some of the ignorant then? Of course it would. BUT IT SHOULDN’T TAKE THAT!
Piers Morgan tweeted this earlier:
“On #WorldMentalHealthDay, a reminder that statistically, this is the safest & healthiest time to ever be alive in recorded history.”
The ignorance in that one tweet sent me to boiling point. He’s probably right, from a physical perspective. From a mental health perspective he is absolutely wrong. Social pressure, world pressure, means that we are probably living in the WORST time for mental health. People don’t realise it, but it’s a fact. How do we address it? It’s up to people with the most influence to ensure that they are using that influence for good, to be more aware of the impact they have on society and on people. And then we need to look at ourselves and how we are toward each other. We need to look within our schools and how children are toward each other. We need to look at how we conduct ourselves and interact with each other online. We almost need to start a collective think tank and start again, we need to learn how to be kinder to one another and see that these brains of ours are not indestructible. They’re fragile, they need looking after. WE need looking after as people. It’s not just our bodies that need maintaining, it’s our minds too. Piers Morgan’s tweet COULD be all encompassing if we learned just to look after each other better.
World Mental Health Day itself needs to be handled better. It’s good that people in the public eye are used to highlight the issue, but what about the people that REALLY suffer each day. The Royal family are all over social media today, pop stars, TV & film stars, all talking about the good work that people do or their own experiences…but what about people who live with these chronic conditions day in, day out? Give us a voice, give us air time. Come and see the reality of how this really is. Only then will acceptance of the legitimacy of mental illness come to the fore.
Finally, I saw Jeremy Hunt speaking at a ‘Time To Change’ event. This man is the Health Minister responsible for the vast cuts in the NHS, not least cuts in Mental Health care. It’s insulting that he is even invited to speak at such events, let alone that he even turns up. The government continues to cut funds, yet more and more people suffer, more and more people need treatment and more and more people die. To say it’s not good enough is an understatement. It has to change. One more death is a death too many. Jeremy Hunt & the government have so much blood dripping from their hands that I’m surprised they are able to grip a door handle. I couldn’t look myself in the mirror each day knowing I was depriving people of the care so many of us need. It has to change…and we must keep pushing them for that change.
There has always been a need for mental health issues to gain greater media coverage to ensure wider understanding and breaking of associated stigmas. Thankfully, over the past few months, there have been a number of high profile campaigns to ensure this has happened, and I’m glad to see that on the subject of eating disorders there have been a few stories run. I myself have been both the subject and included in a few of these stories, and have always agreed to do them for that purpose; to help educate and encourage anyone suffering who hasn’t already got help to do so.
Tomorrow (24th July), BBC Panorama will be broadcasting a programme called ‘Men, Boys, Eating Disorders’ featuring international rugby referee Nigel Owens, MBE. Nigel has been struggling with bulimia for the past 27 years and will tell his story and meet other sufferers throughout the programme. Some of his story has been published today on the BBC news website and can be read here.
I’m full of admiration for Nigel for sharing his story in such a public way, especially in view of his profile, and really hope that this will do exactly what is needed – both educate and inspire those who are suffering in silence to get help. Also, as a man, I hope that it will again show that eating disorders don’t discriminate. They aren’t confined to teenage girls, they can affect anyone regardless of gender, age, sexual orientation, colour of skin or whatever. They are real, legitimate, debilitating and vile illnesses that destroy lives. I urge anyone that can to watch the programme and really try to understand what sufferers go through, as hard as I know it is to understand.
Of course, media attention and understanding of these matters are only one part of a wider issue. The focus needs to continue, and the media coverage needs to maintain in order for people to continue to be educated and inspired to get help. However, in order to get the help needed there needs to be the support services and right treatment available. As I said in my last blog post I have withdrawn from social media in terms of posting about my illness and I’ve stuck to it. I have continued to use it for posting about everyday things, but on the subject of my own health I have said nothing, even when asked. The truth is I continue to be very unwell. Anorexia is grinding me down, depression has crept in and I’m heading toward my lowest weight at any point since I was diagnosed. All eating disorder support that was previously there has now been withdrawn.
As I discussed in that last blog post the ultimatum was day treatment or a “therapeutic break.” As I said then I know in honesty day treatment would cause me far more damage than good and that I’m honest enough with myself to know exactly what I need. However, the commissioners won’t allow it, the NHS cuts being such that the money and options aren’t there, and so I’m without the help I need. Where this will end I don’t know (sorry, I’m repeating myself) but I’m numb to the worry of it. I’m a hamster in a wheel, days are all the same, anorexia has become the larger part of me and I haven’t got the treatment options open to me to help me to fight it.
I don’t believe this is the case for all, however. I think this is a case of a ‘postcode lottery’ and that because Gloucestershire has the day treatment option it’s something that has to be tried first. Truth is I have, it’s just that they insist I try again, ignoring my own thoughts on the subject. There has to be flexibility, they just won’t budge. There’s enough of my mind intact to know what’s damaging and not in terms of treatment. C’est la vie. In other areas of the country I know that treatment options are a lot better for people. Don’t be put off by what’s going on for me – GET THE HELP YOU NEED as soon as you can and be forceful. Meanwhile we must push government for more funding into the NHS for mental health care. Nobody should be held back from options based on where they live, nobody should have anything but the full range of options open to them and EVERYONE should have a voice in their treatment.