This is Mental Health Awareness Week. A week to lift up the carpet, releasing the veil of secrecy and perceived shame surrounding this illness, and to raise awareness. I guess it's all about getting it out into the open and removing the stigma attached to this 'invisible illness', as it's being tagged on twitter.
I'm all for it being openly discussed, so that no-one need feel ashamed when this illness hits them or if they have a friend or family member who has a mental health disorder. So that no-one feels hostile to mental illness That it's a subject so openly discussed that they feel they can turn to family or friends requesting help and support, and then receive the necessary health care if required.
And that's where it can start to breakdown.
It is wonderful when your loved one, or friend, feels that they can open up to you and admit how they are feeling. You can offer support; a listening ear, a comforting shoulder and even a cup of tea. That may appease things awhile, keeping the 'demons' at bay, but sometimes such support is but a band-aid that needs ever more regular changing. And there's only so much cups of tea one can drink, and only so much helplines can help.
While it's important that someone suffering with depression can turn to their family, it's important to point out that family are not always best equipped to deal with this illness, one that has many presentations particular to each sufferer. Families familiar with their loved ones illness eventually know when it's time to send for professional psychiatric help.
But that help can be very difficult to attain.
In my parent's generation things like this were never discussed, just a quick knowing nod accompanied by the familiar side-of-the-mouth, barely whispered - 'suffers with her nerves, you know' over the garden fence. I learned from them, at a very young age, to never tell anyone. No-one must ever know. You keep it to yourself at all costs. If I don't say anything then maybe it's not true? It will be fixed and our much loved family member would be returned to us as if nothing ever happened? Of course things didn't work out like that, things just ran their course as they always did and would continue to do in the future to come.
You see Mental Illness doesn't just affect the sufferer, it effects the whole family unit too. It can escalate into a very difficult situation very quickly, and help can be very difficult to attain. It is heartbreaking to see your loved one disintegrate before your eyes. I have no idea how horrendous these episodes are for the sufferer but to watch, knowing that all you can do is monitor and keep them safe until help arrives, is emotionally devastating. And help can take a long time to arrive. Especially if a breakdown peaks on a weekend. And in my experience they always peak on weekends. While it's the person in distress who's suffering the most, you bear this unbelievably distressing and stressful situation as best you can. Until Monday arrives and the doctor can be contacted, to once more set the complicated and slow turning wheels of assistance in motion.
I said it before and I'll say it again: I'd prefer to have Broken Bones than a broken mind, any day.
So, in order to raise Mental Health Awareness in this the year of 2014 what changes would I like to see happen, that would a difference to those who suffer with mental illness and their families?
That all psychiatric hospitals follow the St Ita example and are co-located with an acute one.
That all psychiatric nurses are allowed to use their basic general nursing skills. That would allow them to administer a drip (among other things) to a psychiatric patient who is, say, dehydrated as a result of them not eating and drinking for days. This would in turn avoid the complicated efforts of transferring a patient from a psychiatric hospital to an acute one. And back again, which is where the real difficulties begin.
That they remove the idiotic rule that a patient cannot be transferred directly from an acute hospital to a psychiatric one.
Of course if they implement the first one above they then perhaps alleviate the next two?
That they review the protocols around transporting a psychiatric patient to hospital. I know it's important to acknowledge staff safety in these sometimes seriously dangerous situations but is a police escort always necessary? Even if a patient is confirmed to be in a catatonic state? Can they not 'rate' the patient with regards to any possible violence, as assessed by their GP or community nurse?
That they can also examine how necessary it really is that someone else must accompany them on the journey. This sometimes necessitates a nurse/carer from a nursing home or a community nurse (if no family member available) being expected to leave their duties to accompany a patient to a psychiatric hospital that is usually remotely located miles away, with no means of transport to get back!
That they review protocols for ambulance personnel refusing to take a psychiatric patient who is distressed but not violent, and clearly needs help but says they don't want to go. It can't be right that they walk away from such a scenario.......
That proper supports are available in the community upon their release to support both the patient and their family. There are good supports available but an emergency helpline would be helpful.
That these supports be available at weekends also. There's doctor-on-call services for people with medical emergencies, why not something on a smaller scale for mental health emergencies? I know that a local psychiatric hospital does have a kind of doctor-on-call service, only for patients that attend their clinic, and they promise that you will be seen within a certain number of hours (24 or more). I have yet to see that happen.
That patients with mental health illnesses have more options apart from a weekly clinic. You and I can go to a GP any day of the week but a psychiatric patient usually has to wait a week to get seen!
That all professionals don't get so bogged down with the patient's rights that they let that over rule the patients need for treatment.
I don't think it's too much ask for really, is it?
*Please note, if you suffer from mental illness you can seek help from Aware or Pieta House if you feel the need to talk to someone. They are there to help.