In his speech at our recent birthday event, the guest of honour and Mayor of Axminster, Jeremy Walden, pointed out that it’s a shame The Project needs to exist. If you went to your GP or a hospital A&E department with a physical condition requiring urgent treatment, he said, you would be rightly appalled if you were told that there was a 3-6 month waiting list to be assessed. Yet this is a typical experience for people with mental health issues.
We all know the NHS and other governmental services are stretched, but mental health services are particularly neglected. The few resources available are under such pressure that they can only be accessed if you meet stringent criteria. Services for young people with mental health issues are restricted and often difficult to access, even when criteria are met, because they are concentrated in urban areas. Even when they can afford private mental healthcare, parents, carers and young people struggle to find appropriate services.
The Project gives parents, carers and young people support and hope. Our peer support groups are free and inclusive precisely because other services are not: we don’t turn people away because they haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness or can’t afford to pay to attend sessions. We don’t limit the number of sessions they may attend and, if they are aged 13-24, they can keep attending for as long as they wish.
We have to deal with this situation.
We can bemoan the state of the NHS and other mental health service providers and insist that their policies need to change, but even if change is forthcoming, it will take time. Young people with mental health issues need help now. They are suffering now. Their lives are being affected now. They need our support — right now.
The Project shouldn’t have to exist, but thankfully it does exist. We are trying to fill an enormous gap in mental health services in East Devon, South Somerset, West Dorset and beyond. We can currently help up to 80 young people through our peer support groups and reach many more through delivering workshops in schools, providing mental health training and working with other organisations to improve mental health awareness. We also run a monthly support group for parents and carers, who often feel isolated and unsupported by the lack of mental health services available to their young people.
The bottom line is we rely on the generosity of people who believe young people with mental health issues deserve support — which should be everyone.
Mental health problems, like physical health problems, don’t go away on their own. Without treatment and support, they usually get worse and lead to a proliferation of other problems.
To borrow and expand Mayor Walden’s analogy, imagine this: you break your leg and go to hospital, but are told you won’t get your bones reset and put in a cast for four months. You go home and, understandably, can’t do much — but many of the people around you don’t understand. They ask why you can’t come out and play football, since you can read a book and watch television. Perhaps your boss tells you to find a way to get to work or face disciplinary procedures; you know it’s discriminatory and illegal, but you can’t afford a lawyer. Some family members are irritated by your pain and inability to do much, so they claim you are just seeking attention.
After a few weeks, you are still in pain and your broken leg is causing more problems. You can’t get out of the house, so you don’t see your friends very much and feel lonely. Some friends say you are just being awkward and stop calling. You can’t work, so your finances suffer. Trying to get by on statutory sick pay is hard and you can’t pay the bills, so you get into debt to make ends meet. The pain stops you from doing things you used to enjoy, even if you are physically capable of doing them, and your mood deteriorates with each day that passes without treatment. You can’t sleep, prepare healthy meals or exercise, so your general health suffers.
On top of all these issues, you get a barrage of messages from television, the press, social media and the general public: people with broken legs are costing the NHS and employers millions of pounds. People are to blame for their own broken legs. People use broken legs as an excuse not to work, so they can scrounge off the state. People with broken legs are dangerous. Broken legs are a major problem in our country. Imagine how these messages make you feel when you are helpless, awaiting treatment whilst your broken leg prevents you from living your life.
Unfortunately, when you substitute ‘broken leg’ for ‘mental health condition’, this situation is not unusual. It seems ridiculous when the problem is a broken leg, but when the problem is anxiety, depression, an eating disorder or any other mental illness, it is reality.
We need to tackle all the problems mentioned in the above analogy, including the perpetuation of ignorant and misinformed opinions about mental health issues, but treatment and support at the outset must be a priority. The Project provides support where there was previously none.
Action is vital.
It’s important to discuss issues like NHS policy and whether this is affected by the stigma surrounding mental illness, which is decreasing but still exists. It’s important to recognise that mental health affects physical health (and vice versa), so investing in mental health would improve the nation’s physical health. It’s important to challenge the myths which surround mental health and raise awareness so that these myths will eventually die out. But it’s also vital that we take action and give young people the support they need.
So we are asking you to please take action by donating to our #Support4September campaign. We need to raise £15,000 to continue all our support groups, so the money you give will be of direct benefit to young people with mental health issues. Here is the link: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/theprojectyp