Part of the Stories of Change project. Image by Kay Aitch.
‘When I look back I see myself being left, bereft in a desert, with only an empty noticeboard to look at. Desperately seeking some help.’
A vicious circle between hospital, home, GPs and school. Something happened to ‘Me’. Coherence was gone. I found myself in a thick glass case with bubbles in-between. The outside world was far away, blurred, empty, with no reference points. I looked in the mirror and saw nothing. I was utterly dependent upon others to help me through.
Why did physical health professionals take no account of my mental health when the crisis happened? It was known I was vulnerable. Did no one think it was relevant? Did no one think to flag it up as a risk factor and that I might need extra support? Perhaps if they had then this story might have ended here – a good outcome. But no, it didn’t happen like that for me.
GPs had no treatment for anxiety and grief. I didn’t look that ill. My hair was brushed. I was “coping”. Until it became obvious that I wasn’t. Only the medication for depression made it worse not better. But it was my “fault”. I wasn’t responding like I should.
“Pull yourself together”
“Work harder at this”
Never spoken but always simmering just beneath the surface.
Fragmented Secondary Care Services
I was fragmented. The last thing I needed was a fragmented service that offered no sense of continuity, no sense of coherence. Never seeing the same person twice. Mental health care looked like an impenetrable forest to me. I never fitted neatly into anyone’s box. No one ever looked for the whole picture. Only saw ‘their’ fragment.
At no point, in all that time, did anyone signpost me towards any other provision or source of support. I had no access to any information about any other place or organisation that might help me to recover. Having access to the right information at the right time is empowering. I ended up being invisible. Disconnected. Excluded. Abandoned.
It took more than a decade to make a diagnosis. It felt like a victory of sorts, a recognition that antidepressants on their own were never going to be the miracle cure. No longer at the mercy of locum GPs who didn’t understand. The endless humiliations of having to beg for something to get me to sleep so I could cope with the day to day realities of looking after children. “You will be fine when your children have left home” said a psychiatrist. The youngest was nine years old. Their mental wellbeing was known to be at risk because of my poor mental health but still there was no treatment for me. I was still depressed. I fell through the net. We, as a family, fell through the net.
People’s relationships are fragile in these circumstances.More can be done to support families in crisis. Don’t blame and judge – look at the whole picture.
An indefinable urge to connect, to try to build a network of support led me to school’s notice board. There was nothing there for me either. Again, I was invisible. Nobody spotted a depressed mum feeling lonely and awful in the corner of the school playground waiting, day after day. Why should they? It wasn’t their job. Schools seem to be detached from the mental health of their parents. Yet they could do so much more to help rather than making it worse. It doesn’t have to be an extra demanding burden. Creating a culture and climate of support around the whole school community can only help children and families thrive.
When I look back I see myself being left, bereft in a desert, with only an empty noticeboard to look at. Desperately seeking some help.
A Way Out
I never gave up on myself. I clung onto tiny highlights in the landscape. I wanted to have a manageable moment, a manageable day, a manageable life.
Eventually, through sheer good luck, I found a tiny Sheffield charity who support women out of depression. They listened to me, gave me the time I needed. Never judged or blamed or explained it away. They helped me reclaim myself, rebuild a life I wanted. They gave me the confidence to persevere with the system and get the treatment I needed. They made a huge difference in my life. They gave me the kind of support I never received from public services. Without this support I would still be a drain on my GP, consuming time and money, to alleviate symptoms without ever treating the underlying problem. And this is the rub – it was eminently treatable – could easily have been resolved if my mental health had been considered at the time I needed physical health services.
What could have been done? Better Connections
Access to the right information about public services and the way they can help is essential when you are in a crisis. For me, the lack of the right information and the right support was part of the problem. GPs, schools and community mental health teams could really help if they knew their communities. If they knew what is available they could signpost people on. Signposting on really matters. Don’t reduce human distress to a list of symptoms and scales that fail to capture the whole experience. Don’t increase the fragmentation.
Stories of Change is a collaborative project between Sheffield First Partnership’s Better Connected Programme, the University of Sheffield, local artists, and people of Sheffield; it is investigating how public services can be better connected to the actual needs of people who use them. By bringing together people from different communities and age groups, this project will help to frame an overall picture of how different kinds of crises might complicate the connection between people and public services.