It’s that time of the half decade again here in the UK, the time of the General Election where those of voting age are given the option to vote on who they want to see governing the country. There are a number of issues that people have wanted discussed, from education to immigration to public spending and welfare right down to our NHS there is a broad spectrum of topics that the candidates for each of the seven parties have needed to think long and hard about in order to put together a manifesto that wins the hearts and minds of voters across the country.
There is however one topic in particular that is close to my mind at the moment; a topic of which has been considered taboo by many. What will the government to be do to look after those with mental health issues?
All of the political parties have promised great things and others have also promised to cut funding to certain areas in order to save the country money. The Liberal Democrats and The Conservatives promised to increase funding for the NHS and for Youth Services in the last election, instead the NHS is at a crisis point, for mental health services for young people on the NHS the lucky few who make it to the waiting list have to wait months, if not years to be seen by a trained professional. Others have just been left to fend for themselves.
One thing this government has unfortunately in my opinion been guilty of is creating a “demonized” view of those who are claiming benefits; regardless of their reason or need, stirring up public hatred and making harder for those in need to claim financial help or to access medical help when needed, leaving them in a potentially dangerous situation where you have people who have had their benefits cut, had no support and have literally starved to death as there is nobody to check on them.
Of course there will always be those who abuse welfare systems, but is it that we all have to suffer just so the government can also gain labor that is cheap or completely free by sending vulnerable people on excessive placements and then wondering why suicide rates up as a result of these said vulnerable people not having any money to support themselves or getting the opportunity to have a support network in place that they can access?
For young people, there is very much the idea of “if you have a mental health problem, you are probably dangerous, or just after attention”, unless you happen to have a lot of money or get extremely lucky and have a sympathetic doctor, more often than not you will just be left to “power through it” this is what my original GP told me to when I asked her for help after months of wanting to commit suicide.
My story goes something like this. I had been studying health and social care at college for 3 years doing my BTECs as I had been home schooled prior to this and had no formal qualifications. I was born on the later half of the year and had to start later as a result of this; completing a number of volunteer/work experience placements whilst I waited to start college.
Unfortunately as I turned 20 all funding help and support stopped for me, meaning my budget to get to college to complete the second half of my level 3 BTEC was slashed; I tried to look at various options to help me get back to college including going to careers advisers only to be told I was too old, or to “have a child” “get a job” *which I was trying to do at the time* or get my parents to pay; this was not an option as my family are on a low income, the same as many throughout the country and my parents are carers for my severely autistic brother; who unlike the Prime Minister actually care for him themselves with no actual support from the authorities or extended family.
Within the last month of college I resigned myself to the fact I would not be at college anymore, leaving with half a qualification, so I tried the best I could and left to go look for work full time.
I went to the Job Center to sign on Job-seekers Allowance, I had a better experience than most as I had a reasonable adviser, however I was told not to mention I had Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism) or Dyspraxia (a learning disability) as even with The Equality Act 2010 in place, employers will still discriminate against those with disabilities.
So I began my quest to look for work. It was then I found out how harsh life could be. I found on application forms you had to disclose any problems you had especially when working with people in the care sector. The only problem was when I saw employers read that,they would automatically change their manner to me, and then knowingly say “thanks for coming” which basically translates to “thanks for coming but we aren’t looking for a disabled worker.
As a result of my Asperger’s Syndrome unfortunately I tend to stress out over certain things pretty easily; as each month went by a part of me felt like it was dying; I knew my family were counting on me to get a job, the Job Center was wanting me to sign off and get a job, my relatives were gossiping about my inability to get a job and a fair amount of my so called friends were calling me lazy and a scrounger behind my back, needless to say they are no longer classed as my friends.
The few remaining ones who chose to support me I regrettably cannot see due to being unable to drive and having to look for work and being unable to justify spending the bus travel money. It all came to a head last November when I finally having been messed around by one company who agreed to hire me as a Support Worker; they gave me none of the promised training, deliberately tried to trigger a “meltdown” in me in public, refusing to help me also even though they knew I couldn’t drive give me an appropriate schedule *as they knew I was having to bus to the service*.
I then left after that, having been unable to cope, especially by then I was never getting a single full night’s sleep, stressed and tearful and getting one bout of tonsillitis after another and not eating properly. I had my 21st birthday a month after, this involved a trip to the Job Center as my parents needed me to sign back on JSA and me sleeping through the rest of it.
The next few months were a haze of trying to get work and feeling on edge, great way to start a new year. Not. I felt especially stressed as I had done so well prior to leaving college; I felt so unwanted, such a failure that I had let myself and everyone else down.
Having seen the amount of “benefit scrounger” articles in the papers, I felt less able to admit that I needed support. Eventually after no particular trigger I broke down crying; told my mum everything, who in turn booked me an appointment with a GP as she suspected I had depression and anxiety. Unfortunately said GP looked at me and told me to “power through it and make more of an effort”.
After this diagnosis, I felt weaker than ever, too afraid to talk to anyone else about it and that if I just “got a job” things would improve. A number of unsuccessful interviews went by, where each time I was so nervous I was a quivering wreck; no wonder nobody wanted to hire me. The tonsillitis grew worse and am now finally having them scheduled for removal. I am also on a side note being tested for cancer. I ended up stressing out so much having had a number of rows with certain members of the family when I made another appointment with a different GP who referred me to LIFT psychology.
Weeks passed, I then went for the appointment. Anxious, I went in, however the psychologist I felt had a very narrow understanding of autism, not understanding why we couldn’t tell a non verbal autistic male who’s 19 that hitting people isn’t the best way to relieve stress (we have, he just doesn’t understand) and unfortunately took the stance of the 1st GP and was really insulting. I felt so nervous and intimidated I was unable to explain myself clearly. Once again I was left to fend for myself.
I tried to get a job once again, only my health took a turn for the worst. During a routine examination with another doctor a lump was discovered that been dismissed as a cyst the previous year, but upon scanning had in fact grown by several centimeters on my thyroid, which when I was referred for a biopsy. I am currently waiting on these results.
Unfortunately after stressing about these results (as they have lost them, I still do not know the outcome) I had a rather public meltdown, ended up crying in my local library after the stress got too much. A few days later, my mom helped me to type out everything that had been going on and booked me an appointment with a third GP.
Luckily having it all out on paper helped save time; he then offered me medication after diagnosing me with Depression and Anxiety disorder. I have agreed to go on this medication (though had the option of not) and have been signed off work, (in the process of going on ESA) while I wait for my medication to work and for my operations to take place, I am hoping to eventually start working in a local nursery as a volunteer with hopes to make this somehow into a career.
Looking back, I wish I had the courage to write everything down and go to another GP sooner instead of believing what the first one said; a lot of pain could have been avoided and I could have started the long road to recovery sooner. I am looking to the future now; hoping to regain my strength once more; I do know however a major worry for me was my pride; worrying about what people were thinking of me; were they ashamed of me? Was I a burden to those I love? It is my hope that in sharing my story I can show more young people they are not alone and that it is not a shame or disgrace to admit to being in need of help and support when they are feeling at their most vulnerable.
Whoever gets into Downing Street next month needs to keep their word to help young people; many parties have promised more funding to services for young people; but they need to follow these promises through in order for a difference to be seen, for changes for the better to be made. There also needs to be more support available that young people can access and not feel ashamed in attempting to do so. The stigma surrounding being in need of help needs to end, after all nobody can ever say for certain that they themselves will never be in a position of needing help. Only then can we as a society move forward into a brighter future.