Tag Archives: mental illness

Mental Health in Scotland – a 10 year vision.

The Scottish Government is currently running a consultation seeking views from the public on the proposed framework to transform mental health in Scotland.

This morning I made my contribution to this consultation highlighting the need to prioritise cutting down the unacceptably long waiting times prevalent in our mental health services.
I raised the need to increase accessibility to therapies rather than prescribing medication as a first resort and in particular the need to move away from cognitive behavioural therapy as a ‘one size fits all’ therapy and instead adopt a wider variety of therapies to match the needs of individual patients.
My full submission to the consultation can be found here.
The Government’s consultation is still open and I encourage anyone with experience of Scotland’s mental health services, whether as a patient or as a professional to make their own contribution to the consultation which can be found here.ImageVaultHandler.aspx

Improving Access to Mental Health Services Inquiry

The UK’s Public Accounts Committee has opened an inquiry into improving access to mental health services which you can read about by clicking here.
Whilst the committee is no longer accepting evidence towards the inquiry from the public (the deadline was at midday today), I managed to make a written submission yesterday.
I submitted the following written evidence to the Public Accounts Committee:

“Written evidence submitted by Ben Lawrie on a personal capacity.

  • Paragraph 1 – Introduction
  • Paragraph 2 – Waiting times for mental health services are far too long.
  • Paragraph 3 – Not enough varieties of services are offered.
  • Paragraph 4 -The waiting list utilises a system which disadvantages those who need help the most.
  • (1) My name is Ben Lawrie, I am 21 years old and I am a studying a joint-degree in Psychology and International Relations at the University of St Andrews. Having suffered from depression and anxiety myself I am a dedicated mental health activist and am currently the Mental Health Representative on my University’s Wellbeing Committee. My reason for submitting this written evidence is that I have seen first-hand the short-fallings of the mental health services through my own experience in seeking help, as well as hearing accounts from friends who have also not received the support that they deserve.

 

  • (2) Waiting times are far too long, when I was referred to a psychiatrist in Angus where I live it took around four months for me to get an appointment. For someone with depression and suicidal thoughts, a whole night is a very long time to persevere, four months is simply not good enough. After finally receiving an appointment I had roughly four months to wait between each appointment with the new-found knowledge that I had a mental illness but without any therapy or medication to deal with it. I quickly became disillusioned with the mental health services and stopped going for appointments. Now I am registered in Fife as that is where I attend university, I have again been referred to a psychologist and this time I have been told that the waiting list will be at least a year long, I don’t think I need to explain how this is simply not good enough. Sadly I am not a unique case, a friend of mine in Angus who suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder managed to get an emergency appointment with the mental health services, despite it being an emergency appointment the waiting time was two months long. Normal appointments should not take this long let alone emergency appointments.

 

  • (3) After persevering through excruciatingly long waiting times, it is often the case that the support provided is not satisfactory. The psychiatrist I saw seemed generally disinterested in me and eager to put me on anti-depressants and send me on my way. He seemed unsure of what was wrong with me and made it out to be my fault for not finding the words to explain it properly and therefore I was reluctant to take medication if he wasn’t even sure what the problem was to begin with! I’m sure that somebody wouldn’t be sent for chemotherapy unless the doctor was sure they had cancer so I don’t see how it’s acceptable to prescribe anti-depressants to someone when you don’t yet know what mental illness they have. Because of this I was reluctant to accept medication and insisted on counselling instead. After a few weeks wait I finally received counselling from a woman who had the best intentions but after my second sessions she told me that my problems were maybe a little complicated for the counselling she could offer and I was sent back to seeing the psychiatrist once every few months. It was then that I became disillusioned with the support on offer, grudgingly accepted medication (which came with unpleasant side effects) and stopped seeing the psychiatrist. This brings me to my second point, when someone is successful in receiving therapy it tends to be Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), and whilst CBT has its merits, its currently being used as a one size fits all solution and many people would benefit far more from different kinds of therapy. There needs to be more of a variety of therapies to suit different individual needs.

 

  • (4) Finally, the waiting list system in place in Fife (I’m not sure if its used everywhere in the country) leads to people who need help the most not getting it. This is because after a few months of being on the waiting list they send you a letter asking if you wish to remain on the waiting list and if you don’t reply within two weeks they take you off of the list. I recently received such a letter and as I was in a fairly reasonable state of mind upon receiving it I was able to reply promptly. However, a close friend of mine who suffers from bipolar disorder and is also on the waiting list received her letter whilst going through a severe manic episode. During this time she was under the delusion that she was somebody else and did not reply to the letter in time. Subsequently she was taken off of the waiting list and had to re-join again from the start. Because of this system, people with more severe mental illness and need help the most are the ones most likely to find themselves unable to respond to their letter and be pulled off of the waiting list and this is a huge problem which needs to be addressed.”

This written evidence was submitted yesterday and I will post updates as I get them.

 

How would Brexit impact UK Mental Health Services?

With the EU referendum coming up in just a few weeks, I thought it would be appropriate as a dedicated mental health activist to outline what impact I predict Brexit would have on mental health services in the UK.
There are three main factors that I think would affect our mental health services if we were to leave the EU, the first of these is the economy.
It is widely accepted that leaving the EU would be detrimental to the UK economy with 9 out of 10 economists saying that leaving the EU will damage our economy. The Chief of NHS England, Simon Stevens has claimed that “When the British economy sneezes, the NHS catches a cold… it would be very dangerous if at precisely the moment the NHS is going to need extra funding, the economy goes into a tailspin”
Much of the current problems with our mental health services come down to a lack of funding and if funding of the NHS is hit by Brexit, this will surely lead to even less funding for mental health services.

The second factor that I believe will affect mental health services is the loss of EU science funding.
British scientists gain huge amounts of funding for research from the EU and freedom of travel within the EU makes it easier to assemble international teams of leading scientists to cooperate on projects. Our knowledge of mental health is far behind our knowledge of physical health and Brexit would be a blow to research of mental illnesses, their treatments and other aspects of mental health that we are yet to learn. This would slow down the progress we are making in learning how to effectively treat mental illness which will hinder the recovery of sufferers of mental illness for generations to come.

Finally, the EU as an institution is committed to improving the mental health of the continent. In 2005, the European Commission published a Green paper -Promoting the Mental Health of the Population. Towards a Mental Health Strategy for the EU. Following this, the European Pact for mental health and well-being was launched in 2008. The pact was then implemented through numerous conferences tackling priorities such as Combating Stigma and Social Exclusion and Prevention of Depression and Suicide.
I already worry for our mental health services. Currently they are over-stretched and under-funded. Waiting times are excruciatingly long and many people are being left to suffer as a result. I can only see these problems becoming intensified were we to leave the EU and this is part of the reason that as soon as I received my postal vote, I sent it straight back with a big cross next to Remain!

Confession of Depression: One Year On

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of me going public about my mental health for the first time. On the 30th of March 2015 I made a blog post on the Angus & Mearns Liberal Democrats website highlighting my experiences living with depression and seeking help. I can’t tell you how I scared I was after publishing it, there’s a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness and I had family and friends who would have known nothing about my depression prior to reading the blog.
Those fears couldn’t have been more unfounded. Within a fortnight, over 6,000 people had read my blog and I was receiving messages from local journalists asking to write about my story in the newspapers.

I received dozens of messages from strangers thanking me for coming out with my story, saying that they thought they were the only ones in the world feeling that way, from parents who thanked me for helping them to understand what their son or daughter was going through and from friends and family telling me how proud they were. A year has gone past and I still get the odd message from someone who has stumbled across the blog online, including a Canadian mental health magazine that has just published my story!

My story featured in Canadian "HERE Magazine"

My story featured in Canadian “HERE Magazine”

Me speaking at a Student Minds mental health awareness event.

Me speaking at a Student Minds mental health awareness event.

Depression has been something that’s dragged me down my whole life but for once I managed to take it and turn it into something positive. Being open about my experiences hasn’t made me subject to the ridicule I feared it would but has actually opened doors for me.
Shortly after posting my story online, somebody from the charity Student Minds contacted me and asked if I’d like to talk about my experiences alongside other people at a mental health awareness event, it was so comforting to have such a supportive platform to talk about such a sensitive topic and to see other people doing the same thing too and I’ve recently had the pleasure of talking for Student Minds again.

In the months following my blog release I quickly found myself becoming a committed mental health activist and decided to run in a by-election for the Scottish Youth Parliament with a manifesto based on raising awareness of mental illness and improving support for young people in North-East Fife. Whilst I didn’t win, I spoke  to lots of young people in Fife and managed  to spread the message that mental illness can happen to anyone and is nothing to be ashamed of.

One of my Scottish Youth Parliament Campaign posters displayed at Madras College.

One of my Scottish Youth Parliament Campaign posters displayed at Madras College.

My defeat in the Scottish Youth Parliament by-election didn’t deter me from being involved in the world of politics however. Getting involved in politics has been a really liberating experience for me, it has really given me a voice and without the support of my local party, none of my success to date in raising mental health awareness would have been possible. I’ve never been under the illusion that life is fair but being so involved in politics has really made me feel empowered and able to make positive changes in the world. I’m hoping to be a candidate for the council elections in Angus next year and with any luck I’ll be able to continue increasing awareness and support for mental health as a Councillor. Through politics I managed to meet the former Minister of State for Care and Support Norman Lamb who was very impressed by the work I’ve been doing, saying:

“I’m really impressed by Ben’s campaigning on mental health. He has brilliantly led by example. Openness about mental ill health is incredibly important if we are to combat stigma. He is a star!”

Norman has been a champion for raising awareness of mental health issues and to have his support was absolutely amazing.

Norm

Me with former Minister of State for Care and Support Norman Lamb.

Me being interviewed for the upcoming documentary; "A Confession of Depression."

Me being interviewed for the upcoming documentary; “A Confession of Depression.”

Currently I’m working on a documentary about my experience of depression with local film-maker (and my former high school teacher) Stuart Burns. Whilst the documentary is based on the blog I wrote last year, we’ve managed to involve some fantastic charities like Student Minds and Nightline to raise awareness of the work they do and the services that they provide. We even filmed an interview with the leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats Willie Rennie who spoke about the importance of treating mental health with the same priority as physical health and the role that politicians play in improving mental health services. The documentary is called “A Confession of Depression” and will hopefully be finished by the end of May.

Talking to Leader of the Scottish LibDems Willie Renne about mental health services in Scotland.

Talking to Leader of the Scottish LibDems Willie Rennie about mental health services in Scotland.

Whilst I still struggle with depression and anxiety, the work I’ve been doing to help other people going through similar problems has been a great source of strength for me. There still is a great deal of stigma attached to mental illness and I firmly believe that the best way to tackle this is to keep talking about it.
If you’re struggling with mental illness, you don’t need to man up, just open up. Trust me; people are nicer than you think.

Mental Health: A Confession of Depression

o-THE-SUN-DEPRESSION-570

An example of the media in it’s brutal stigmatisation of depression.

You’ve probably heard the terrible news recently about Andreas Lubitz, the Germanwings co-pilot who orchestrated a terrible suicide-murder that killed everybody on his flight.
Perhaps you heard the news through a newspaper such as the Sun. The media has also heavily reported on the fact that Lubitz suffered from depression and attributed this as a large factor contributing to his actions.

Whilst it is certainly the duty of the media to report on disasters like this, headlines such as “Madman in Cockpit” do nothing but unfairly stigmatise a health condition that is already misunderstood and often awkwardly avoided in conversation. This is despite the fact that 1 out of 4 people each year will experience some form of mental health problem.

Despite how the media may make people feel, depression is nothing to be ashamed of. I personally suffer from depression and anxiety and I refuse to be shunned by society on the basis of a chemical imbalance in my brain.
In light of this I have decided to write about my own experience with depression as I believe that the only way we can break down this stigma is to be open about it rather than being ashamed of things outwith our control. I’ll start by explaining how depression affects me personally, I will then describe my experience in seeking help with my depression and I’ll finish off with how I cope now on a day-to-day basis.
This is particularly difficult for me to write as I know that my friends and family will read this, a lot of them may not even know of my depression. However this is the kind of openness that we as a society need in order to progress and give sufferers of mental illness the support that they need.

So here goes nothing, for those of you that I’ve never met, this is me:

961711_10153113462437092_2131785101_n

This picture was taken 1-2 years ago. Whilst I look extremely happy (probably too happy), this was possibly one of the lowest periods I’ve had.
You’re maybe wondering what was so bad at this point in my life, and I’ll be frank, nothing.
I was studying HNC Social Sciences at Dundee College, and doing really well in all of my coursework, I had (and still have) an amazing family and I was in a relationship at the time which I was pretty happy with. There was genuinely nothing in my life that should have upset me.
Yet I was miserable.
It’s pretty hard to explain but I’m going to try and describe the feeling:

Think about the last time something upset you; perhaps the death of a cherished family pet, or you were dumped in a relationship that you were really happy with.
Well when that happens, your brain registers that something bad has happened and releases the relevant ‘sad hormones’ which then gives you the feeling of being upset.
Well that’s how depression feels, except nothing happens to trigger it. Your brain just releases these sad hormones for reasons best known to itself.
With this in mind; when something bad actually  happens, even something minor, it can feel pretty damn catastrophic.
So there’s something to think about when asking why somebody is depressed, there isn’t necessarily a reason.

Contrary to what you might believe, depression isn’t just feeling sad. There are many symptoms of depression and they vary wildly between different people.
For example some people might lose their appetite and subsequently lose weight. On the other hand some people gain weight instead.
Some people, such as myself suffer from insomnia caused by their depression, I’m currently writing this at 5:30am.
Other people find that they sleep too much or can’t get out of bed due to depression, this is also a problem for me and I tend to miss a lot of lectures at university as I physically can’t move myself from my bed, sometimes I’m not even tired, I just don’t feel able to leave my safe haven to go and face the intimidating outside world that awaits me.
This brings me to another symptom of depression that has affected me greatly, apathy.
It can be very difficult to motivate myself to do things and it’s often misconstrued as laziness which is very frustrating for me.
My Dad in his well-intentioned attempts to help me do things will often say “you just lack motivation!” Well thanks Dad, I kind of know that.
He’ll often then tell me that I just need to motivate myself. Let me tell you, while he means well, that’s like telling a crippled man that he just needs to get up and walk.
It’s hard to understand depression if you’ve never experienced it yourself, it’s like trying to imagine a colour you’ve never seen before, but we need to make an effort to empathise with people suffering from mental illness, it can be just as hard for them to put it into words as they often don’t quite understand it themselves.

At some particularly low-points of my life I have resorted to self-harm. There was one night in 2013 where I felt particularly hopeless. It was  like nothing I could do would ever be of any importance. I attempted to take my own life by overdosing on Co-codamol (strong painkillers).
Obviously my plan failed and I woke up the next morning feeling very ill. I spent the rest of the day violently vomiting but managed to convince my family that it was just a bug. They believed this until a few weeks later when I finally admitted what happened to my parents, this brings me to my experience in seeking professional help.

I was referred to a psychiatrist in Arbroath. When he asked me to explain to him how I felt, it was difficult to know where to begin.
Sad, apathetic, lethargic, hopeless, detatched, like I’m watching all of my actions through a TV screen but it’s not actually me that’s doing them, I’m in autopilot.
I left the appointment with the psychiatrist feeling just as confused about me as I did. He told me he was struggling to understand my problems as I didn’t seem to understand them myself. My next appointment would be in 4 months time.
After 4 months of feeling crazy because I was someone who needed a psychiatrist, yet not actually receiving the support of a psychiatrist over these months I finally had my second appointment.
In all honesty, the psychiatrist seemed disinterested in me and seemed eager to just put me on anti-depressants.
I don’t want to go on medication when the doctor doesn’t even seem to be sure of what’s wrong with me!
If I went to the GP with a weird lump, would they give me chemotherapy if they were unsure of what was wrong?!

I refused the medication and insisted on a more therapy-based approach to which the psychiatrist finally agreed.
After waiting a month I finally had my first appointment with a counselor, a lovely and friendly women who I quickly opened up to.
However it didn’t last, after my second session with her she seemed equally as confused about my feelings as the psychiatrist had been and recommended “a slightly higher level of care”.
I was then sent back to seeing the psychiatrist once every four months.
I eventually became very frustrated with the whole system, accepted the anti-depressants and then told the psychiatrist that I felt “perfect” so that I wouldn’t have to travel from Monifieth to Arbroath once every four months just to have some guy make a half-assed attempt of figuring me out, as if he was trying to solve a sudoku puzzle whilst watching the telly.
After reluctantly taking the medication, I found that it did help to ease my anxiety and panic attacks (which were a big burden to me at the time), but it did not help with my depression. It also seemed to fog my mind, it’s like it helped my anxiety by throwing a big wet blanket over my brain.
Basically, we really need to look at the treatment of mental health issues in our healthcare system as in my experience, it’s not nearly good enough.

I came off of the medication fairly recently, whilst depression is still a problem for me, I’ve managed to find some meaning in my life which has really helped me cope. I’m studying psychology at the University of St Andrews with an aim to eventually become a psychotherapist. I plan to use my experiences of depression to help me in supporting those going through similar problems.
After all, who’s better suited to save those who are lost in a sea of depression than one who is already wet?

Sadly, in the world of politics I have not seen many people working towards the better treatment of the mentally ill.
This is why I support the Liberal Democrats, the only party I have seen who are really making an effort in this area.

Thank you for reading my story, I hope it encourages other people to speak out about their own experiences with mental health issues.
10898242_10152982889988270_5323231927094429275_n

If you are feeling depressed or suicidal and need to talk to someone you can call Samaritans (08457 90 90 90) or Childline (0800 1111).