Today I (along with my wonderful friend and fellow campaigner Eve Canavan) gave another television interview, about perinatal mental health services. The topic is of great interest currently, with the EastEnders storyline and all the associated coverage. The team from BBC Breakfast, putting together a segment for Tuesday 19 January edition, were interested to know how women like Stacey may be treated, and what barriers to treatment they might face. We spoke to the journalist at length about what had happened to us, and what we would like to see happen in the future.
Eve's story is particularly shocking. You can read it here: https://smalltimemum1.wordpress.com/2015/11/22/i-need-a-bed-of-strawberry-creams-in-a-place-of-recovery-dreams/ .
As I spoke, it all came tumbling out. I'm afraid I may have been rambling and not a little emotional. But, you see, it's hard to remain dispassionate when we are talking about people's lives. Babies growing up with poorly parents and (completely treatable) illnesses worsening and lingering.
Politicians love to talk about Parity of Esteem for mental health (in relation to physical). There was great fanfare this week (on Monday 11 January) when David Cameron announced a near £1 billion funding boost for mental health services. But already, we know this isn't enough to reverse the years of underfunding. Speaking starkly: you have to literally be at death's door to access real care for your mental illness.
Have you tried to take your life?
Have you made any detailed suicide plans, such as stockpiling medication?
Are you a danger to others?
Well, I'm sorry, but please get back in the line.
You don't meet our thresholds.
You aren't in immediate danger.
You can cope at home with your family.
There are people a lot sicker than you, you know.
This is a familiar story for anyone suffering with a severe mental illness. For children and young people the thresholds are even higher. Mums are (generally) quite fortunate: perinatal mental illness is becoming more recognised. But even in this field, huge gaps remain. The Maternal Mental Health Alliance "map" of service provision illustrates the problem:
Getting help is just too hard, for too long, for too many.
It shouldn't have to be this hard.
But it is.
In a previous life, I used to be a health economist. I once worked on a project for the Department of Health, looking at the cost of long term conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and mental illness. It was clear from that research that mental illness was a huge burden to both the NHS and society (as well of course completely debilitating for the families concerned). The research I looked at showed that just small investments in tackling mental illness - at the earliest opportunity - could lead to massive gains and cost savings further down the line.
It is a no-brainer.
In other branches of medicine, it is completely accepted that the earlier you identify and start treating a condition, the better.
Lump in your breast? Referral for mammograms and if there is any doubt, proceed with appropriate treatment.
Nasty chest infection? Course of antibiotics, to prevent it developing into full-blown pneumonia.
Had a minor stroke? Start a course of preventative medication to avert future crises.
Broken leg? Immediate fix, and physiotherapy to get you back on your feet.
In none of these cases would a doctor employ "watchful waiting". But in presentations of mental illness, this is precisely what they do.
Depressed? Well you're not actively suicidal so there isn't really anything we can do. Here's some advice to exercise more and get some fresh air.
I have been busy in the world of mental health campaigning for almost three years now, and this seems to me to be the biggest recurring problem: access, recognition, identification and treatment. Just how bad does a new mum (for example) have to feel, before being given access to specialist help and support? I have heard too many stories of closed doors and families living on the edge, trying their best to keep their loved ones safe.
It shouldn't have to be this hard.