An NHS director’s personal story challenging mental health stigma is going viral. Entitled From NHS director to mental health inpatient in 10 days, the post is a moving reminder of how so many of us suffer from mental health problems and how quickly things can deteriorate. And it comes against a backdrop of more cuts to mental health services despite Theresa May’s promises to the contrary.
Mandy Stevens posted the account on her Linkedin page. She says she was moved to make the post public after feeling “overawed by the response” on her Facebook wall. She further states:
Hundreds of comments along the lines of “I never thought someone like you could go through this”. Well guess what… we can and we do; mental illness does not discriminate.
Stevens says she worked in mental health services for 29 years. Firstly as a mental health nurse and then as a manager and director. She writes:
One would think I would be immune to mental illness… But there is no immunity; mental illness can come out of nowhere and affect anyone at any time.
She also describes her experiences with depression:
I am recovering from the most terrible depression that ripped the heart and soul out of me. Very unexpectedly an NHS Acute Inpatient ward in Hackney has been my home for the past 12 weeks.
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One of the reasons Stevens made her post public is to tackle stigma. As she points out, one in four of us suffers from mental health problems every year. But despite the prevalence, as Time to Change points out:
…too many people with mental health problems are made to feel worthless or isolated. The way you act towards someone with a mental illness can change their life: by opening up to mental health you can make a real difference.
And Stevens is certainly doing this. Currently, the post has been shared over 4,000 times. But it is her honesty and openness that makes her story both incredibly moving and effective in challenging stigma.
If I had been in hospital with a broken leg, or a physical problem, no doubt I would have been sharing amusing photos of my drip stand, the signed plaster cast and the hospital food; laughing with my family, friends & extended Social Media community. Instead I have hidden myself away, scared of my own shadow and told very few people. Sad to say, I have also been embarrassed, shy, suicidal, phobic, anxious and scared of everything.
She goes onto explains how poor mental health can fundamentally affect who you are:
This selfie, taken late November, shows a Mandy that no one will recognize: tearful, distraught, matted hair, frightened, withdrawn, desolate & desperate. So so so far from who I normally am; a confident, competent, extrovert, professional, independent woman. This is what mental illness has the power to do.
Praise for the NHS
Stevens is unequivocal in her support for the NHS and the care she received:
The nurses here have humbled me completely and reminded me of my pride in my profession. The management and the whole multi disciplinary team have supported me through this nauseous journey and given me strength and hope to keep going. Without exception, they have been compassionate, professional, kind and caring. Long live the NHS.
But while Stevens received “outstanding” care, funding pressures are forcing cuts to mental health services across the country. Just days after May claimed she was going to invest in mental health services, a women’s psychiatric ward in Croydon announced its closure.
Despite being described by patients as a “life-saving, therapeutic and peaceful environment”, the ward is closing due to NHS England enforcing savings on Croydon Clinical Commissioning Group of £48m over two years.
And this is not an isolated case. As previously reported in The Canary, despite a £1bn spending pledge, figures in August revealed that 60% of mental health trusts have cut the number of beds they have available for mental health crisis care.
Looking to the future
Stevens finishes her post by looking to the future:
Please don’t pity me for having a mental illness. Instead, wish me well for my discharge and full recovery.
I am now being supported by a wonderful range of community services provided by the local Trust, the mental health charity MIND and Hackney Borough Council. I feel positive, optimistic, re-energised… and I’ve got my smile back.
Bring on 2017; it’s gonna be a great year
And this is a message we should all carry. A message of reducing stigma, and of recovery and support. But it’s a message we need to ensure goes to our NHS trusts and to the government. Essential mental health services need to be supported and granted vital funding. This post is a timely reminder of how poor mental health can quickly and dramatically affect any one of us.
– See other Canary articles on the subject of mental health.
– Find out more about poor mental health and how to challenge the stigma surrounding it.
– Support the Mental Health Resistance Network.
– Support Disabled People Against the Cuts.
– If you are having a mental health crisis, you can contact The Samaritans for 24-hour support.
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