Hear my voice | What does World Mental Health Day mean to me?

So as I sit at my computer panicking about the fact I still haven’t packed for my holiday, as well as the mountain of work to do before I go, and just about everything else that could possibly happen in the next month, I’m reminded that World Mental Health Day is coming up. I pounce on the opportunity to procrastinate from my panic and take some time to reflect on my own mental health, how far I’ve come, and what an awareness drive has done for the issue. Google kindly defines the awareness day as being “for global mental health education, awareness and advocacy against social stigma”, but what exactly does it mean to me? The way I see it is doubtlessly going to be different to everyone else as with any mental health issue, it affects us all differently, or we understand it differently. It’s still a difficult subject to talk about. We can talk about a broken leg, or we can discuss the potential socio-economic impacts of Brexit, but we still can’t talk about mental health – strange!

I could tell you my own story but, well, we don’t have that sort of time and I don’t have nearly enough energy to even scratch the surface of what I’ve been through in the 11 years since it became probably the most prominent aspect of my life. But this is what’s needed when trying to access anything within the mental health services. You have to open yourself up entirely and lay it out on the table, all for a box to be ticked and pass the test.

Looking back to when I was 21, having suffered with bipolar disorder for 4 years, I was in a pretty good place. My best support network, being my family, were around me, and work was going well. But that’s what happens – it comes out of nowhere. I quickly hit crisis and I remember telling my mum that I needed help as I was going back to that familiar dark place. My mother took control to sort out help with the first stop being my GP, which was closed so we moved on to the walk-in centre, in the hope that someone there could help. I needed to be referred into the service and this would be the place to help me. I was a shell, I was empty. I’d lost my fight and wanted to throw in the towel. Most of that time is a blur to me now apart from this exchange. My mum had sat and explained the situation, that I needed help and that something needed to be done before I get to a point where I’d wake up in hospital again. The doctor’s response was simply “so, what do you want me to do?” My beacon of hope had met my pleas for help with apathy. And yet this is only a single, small insight into the hurdles that must be jumped in order to get a referral, if we ignore the 6 months wait I faced because they deemed my case either not severe enough or too complex.

I have been a Healthwatch Essex Mental Health Ambassador for a year now and I can honestly say, hand-on-heart that things are going in the right direction. People are taking notice of me, and those like me – people that live with this every day. I’m lucky enough that I’ve been able to use my experiences to impact change in how the services are run and how people view mental health. The new strategy launched this year is only the start, and although things are never going to happen overnight, it’s better we take those steps in the right direction every night than never take them at all.

I suppose what World Mental Health Day is to me, is a reminder. It reminds me to keep fighting for those who fight every day to get out of bed. It reminds me to fight for those that are taking their first anxious steps towards saying that they need help. It reminds me to fight for those that don’t know where to go or who to turn to. Mental health issues won’t go away and can’t be bandaged like a broken toe. The bandages we have are our family, friends and colleagues. But they only work when we can be looked at without judgmental stares and whispers behind our backs. We shouldn’t ever be labelled as “not good enough”. When we’re in a bad place we tell ourselves those words far more than you ever could. We need those around us to be there, offer a hand and remind us to keep fighting when we feel like we can’t anymore.

I’ll now return to my panicking (probably mixed with some cuddles with the dog), but not just panicking. I’ll be fighting too. Maybe take a moment out of your day to think of what mental health means to you and what could be done to make it more accessible to you.

Tamsin – Healthwatch Essex Mental Health Ambassador