Nothing is routine about mental illness - It’s a tragedy that mental illness is such an anathema to
It’s a tragedy that mental illness is such an anathema to most people who know very little about it but in all honestly, until it touches you or your family in some way, most of us choose not to bother to find out.
Five years ago my knowledge of any sort of mental illness had been gleaned from spooky stories of old mental asylums or modern, usually American, detective dramas that routinely demonised sufferers of schizophrenia and psychosis as the obvious suspects of violent crime.
But the truth is that there really is nothing routine about mental illness - it’s a terrible life altering problem and in any form it can have a lasting effect on its sufferers, their families and their loved ones. It’s time that we educated the public and learnt that being mentally ill does not make sufferers criminals, violent or otherwise. When someone you love experiences some kind of mental breakdown, whatever the catalyst or the reason, it can feel just like invaders of the body snatchers as the person you knew is changed beyond all recognition whilst his or her body and face still look exactly the same.
For most people it’s mysterious and disturbing and whilst at this moment you need as much help and support as possible to understand what has happened to your loved one and what can be done about it, there is virtually no help available.
As an onlooker, doing something about it, trying to find help is an almost impossible task as due to some very stupid human rights laws, mentally Ill people can only be helped if they seek help themselves. My experience, whilst limited, tells me that many mentally ill people do not believe that they are ill and so why would they need or seek help? It can be a long road but a parent or friend cannot ‘put someone in a mental hospital’, only medical professionals can do that and it takes an approved mental health professional and two doctors to agree that the person concerned needs help and only then will that person be admitted to hospital.
I was told by a number of industry professionals that people who are mentally ill must reach ‘rock bottom’ before doctors or social workers will intervene – and whilst they could not or would not provide a definition, I did discover that rock bottom can mean self harm or even suicide - so occasionally, by the time help is offered, it’s simply too damn late.
Sadly, the onlookers, the carers, the loved ones are left well and truly on the side lines watching; achingly hoping that rock bottom comes soon, but dreading it’s arrival just the same.
Once the mentally ill person is recognised and or sectioned, apart from the official letters received by the eldest next of kin there is very little specific information available. The staff turnover of care workers, psychologists, and doctors is frighteningly high, meaning that sufferers can and do fall through the cracks as one staff member leaves and another takes over their care.
Incredible frustration can turn to table thumping anger, and perhaps in some circumstances a well penned letter to the chief executive of the local mental health care trust may have an impact or you may be lucky enough to come into contact with a social worker or an NHS worker who is prepared to go that extra mile to help you.
It seems that there are many different types of mental illness as well as many and various causes, just as there are mental illnesses that have no apparent cause at all. But whether you are a sufferer or a carer, a loved one or an onlooker, although it may seem like a recurring nightmare help is out there, so hard and frustrating though it is, never give up – I never will.
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