The Fashionable Trend of Mental Health….

There is no subject matter than I come across more frequently than that of mental health. Government consultation on the controversial section 135 & 136 is current. Having worked in the mental health sector and a previous service-user in the 80’s, I read todays views on it and it brings me nothing more than astonishment.

Personality disorder and multi-personality disorder became terms widely used in the mid-eighties. These terms were used to define those that did not require psychiatric treatment. Mild forms of schizophrenia or bi-polar were placed into “behavioural” grids in order to handle the “Care in the Community” scheme used to “house” those who were previously in the asylums. In the closing of asylums, or to be PC, psychiatric hospitals, a 100-year gagging order was in place as the much-maligned and money-making “suing culture” was about to explode onto the market. Who can fail to forget the hot coffee and suing of McDonalds headline story?

Having previously worked in a secure unit, later to be called a forensic unit, I have experienced first-hand the care received and all that is wrong about mental health care or the lack of it in these fractious modern times.

The demise of the mental health services in this country has presented itself over the last three decades. The cost of mental health care had to be cut dramatically. Duty of care was replaced with duty for the £. As we now see with the fragmentation of the NHS, care services are now outsourced to private enterprises. The prison healthcare system is a good example of this. The MoJ claims all prisoners have the same level of care as if they were to seek treatment in the community. Yet, block bed contracts are being sold to private healthcare companies. Research has shown that prisoners with acute mental health disorders are waiting, shockingly, in some cases, up to a year for transfer to hospital for treatment. What we see today is the fallout of the closure of asylums in the 80s and the introduction of community care. Of course, the slicing up of the NHS has to bear some accountability for this.

As far as I am concerned, there are far too many mental health diagnoses. Bi-polar is the modern- day term for manic depressive. Back in my day, manic depressive had a stigma attached. Now it is considered “fashionable” and “brave” It is an illness that needs serious and specialised treatment. However, the illness can be treated within the community. We know this. I have a family member who is treated successfully, lives independently and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Although it was a fight to get the services to engage with us over her care, we are now well-established and have made her safe, secure and as a “vulnerable adult” the police, the housing association and the local mental health team are all in partnership with us as a family to support her. We know of course, people such as Stephen Fry are living well, having great careers and have well-publicised mental health disorders.

As a previous patient of a psychiatric unit at the age of 21 and ongoing treatment for chronic depression, I was diagnosed with multi-personality disorder at the age of 25, I have over 30-years’ experience of mental health services. I was prescribed carbamazepine to control mood swings. I did not find it fashionable at all to be on this drug. I took this drug for four years. This is a drug that is used for anti-convulsions and has been used for epilepsy and other conditions. The drug did work and is no longer prescribed for personality-disordered conditions.

Back in the “old days” having a mental health disorder did not prevent me from working in the sector. Society today works on lessening the stigma associated with mental health disorders. We are more accepting of mental health today than we were three decades ago and far more aware of language used to describe people with mental health problems.

From my point of view, I am more alarmed and astonished at the lack of awareness and how fashionable mental health has become.  This I am afraid, like everything else has become a money-making machine. There is a large difference between acute mental health disorders and the low-level mental health problems caused by modern living such as anxiety and depression that is treated in the community.  The shock when a person commits suicide, as I have seen with friends who have ended their lives due to lack of treatment or of being heard is immense. But we have to get things into perspective. Acute diagnoses are being missed and what can only be described as low-level community-treated mental health problems are being mixed up as we look to have a mental health “blanket system” There is an acute shortage of beds in the system and has been for the last three decades. Until this is addressed, then I fear what we see now, is only going to become a bigger problem.

 

 

 

3 comments

  1. I understand entirely a number of points you have made here.

    In order to try to understand others, I wonder if you feel able to clarify what you mean by the suggestion that mental health has become ‘fashionable’. I have to confess that I am not someone who follows ‘celebrity news’, or indeed stays ahead of the curve in relation to research about health issues such as bi-polar disorder. I do, however, have considerable and less than happy experience of mental health illness and its treatment.

    I agree entirely that many people with mental health issues can, and should, be helped (medically and otherwise) to live full and independent lives as far as they possibly can. And yes, some people can manage to have ‘successful’ careers (whatever that means) in spite of the hurdles posed by their particular health issue. That said, I am not sure that Stephen Fry is a good example to hold up. First of all, he is on any standard pretty much a ‘national treasure’; beloved by a significant number of people for his humour and his humility. My recollection of his most notable public crisis (when he disappeared for a time in Belgium) was that the public were massively supportive and encouraging of him. I do wonder how supportive the public would have been had this been a less beloved ‘celebrity’. Secondly, Fry has had incredible success and presumably can afford to take as much time off as he may need to recharge his batteries; if you are employed by Tesco on something akin to a ‘zero hours’ contract and try this, I anticipate that you would find your job disappearing before your eyes very quickly. Thirdly, trying to get a job once you have had a similar ‘event’ to Stephen Fry is almost impossible. How do I know? It happened to me. Employers will not touch you with a very long barge pole. It is far easier to write a funny book, do a 12 part series of QI, and pick up a large cheque than find a job in the ‘real world’. That is not, by the way, a criticism of Stephen Fry, who I have the utmost respect for.

    As I say, I would really appreciate some clarification of what you mean by ‘fashionable’. If, as I suspect, you mean that with a greater awareness of MH issues (eg through people like Stephen Fry, Alastair Campbell etc) has come a number of examples of people seeking to use conditions like BPD to justify bizarre lifestyles and irresponsibility, perhaps you are right. Where I think I may have some further comment to make is in relation to the effect that these ‘celebrity cases’ have on people who meet those of us in the ‘real world’ who really see nothing ‘fashionable’ about what we have to live with, regulate, and often medicate (although I don’t any more) and find our ‘labels’ anything other than fashionable.

    An interesting and thought provoking piece, so thank you so much for taking the time to write and post it.

    MJ

    1. Evening Mark,

      Thanks for your response.

      More than happy to clarify – I was trying not to say that I personally feel that Stephen Fry and Alastair Campbell are poor representatives of mental health sufferings and the “fashionable” in the title is purely that mental health has become a trend since Stephen Fry and more recently, Alastair Campbell have made it public with “brave” statements that they too suffer.

      You are correct in that celebrity representation of such conditions and problems is more damaging than highlighting the problems. Stephen Fry and Mr Campbell do not live in the world that we do. Each person has their personal struggles through their mental health problems – glamorising this and somehow forcing their “bravery” on a public who has little support from ever-dwindling services is certainly not an endorsement I uphold.

      The fashionable trend is that of how it has become such a public display of excusing many behaviours as you rightly point out.

      When I was working years ago, the question was never asked whether we had mental health illnesses or conditions. I separate the two as I believe acute diagnoses are very different from conditions that can in some cases, be attributed to modern-living. This has been more apparent in times of welfare reforms and cuts to benefits particularly to the ESA and the current fight to have mental health conditions seen in the same light as physical conditions.

      While I appreciate your last statement – and people not wanting labels, this is the whole angle of my post. That mental health has become a trend in our modern times and not for the right reasons.

      Many of the “primary” issues that people have such as alcohol dependency counteract treatment for mental health issues. People are being denied treatment when those with such dependencies are being neglected by the services when a dependency and mental health often go hand in hand. If one can afford private counselling, then not a problem, however, many are being failed who are in desperate need of services. As you and I are aware, mental health problems can go back many years and culminate when things reach crisis point. When celebrities begin to sensationalise their issues this is a minority when the majority who do suffer, are being denied treatment.

      1. Couldn’t agree more. Thanks for clarifying it. I assumed that this is what you meant, although as a former barrister I was taught that nothing should ever be assumed, and I wouldn’t have wanted to have launched into any kind of response without giving you the chance to clarify (and in so doing avoid making me look any more stupid than I actually am!)

        I find Stephen Fry a ‘hard case’. At the end of the day it isn’t his fault he is a public figure, I guess. Beyond that, I guess it also isn’t his fault he is as sensitive to things that others may breeze through, unperturbed.

        I also agree with you about the ‘brave statements’ situation, although it is presented by the media in a way that anyone who puts their head over the parapet and dares to suggest that they may not actually be helping the situation seems to get roundly condemned – generally by people who have not the faintest idea what it is like to live with an acute MH issue. It’s a tricky subject; you can only begin to break down people’s misconceptions when they are made aware of a subject, but then when they are made aware of it, it can get used like some over-hyped bandwagon for some Z-list singer in a defunct girl band to jump on as the reason she does Class A and can’t keep out of the bankruptcy courts for any more than six weeks at a time. Then any good that may have been done by these ‘brave statements’ is suddenly undone in the public perception, and the real sufferers, well, suffer some more.

        I will give some more thought (thanks to you) to this issue. As I say, my own experiences (considerable, now) of MH services (certainly in the area where I live) is nothing less than appalling. Negligence (administrative and clinical) and, frankly, incompetence are rife.

        As I say, the piece was thought-provoking, and thanks for clarifying.

        All the best

        MJ

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