In my professional life I often discuss help-seeking processes in the health and social care systems, and it’s something widely discussed in the mental health literature. But too often, accounts of help-seeking fail to illuminate the tiny details that actually make or break it. This blog is a personal account of my experience of seeking help for mental health problems in London.
Eighteen months ago, I found myself sitting on a bench in a park near my house, smoking a cigarette and calmly going through in my head the actions I had left on my suicide plan to-do list. Sitting there, the shock of the point I’d let myself get to hit me suddenly with a sharp, physical force. I’d been well – recovered, even – for 7 years. Yet within a couple of months of feeling low, I had a serious suicide plan.
I’d not told anyone that I was feeling low, let alone exactly how bad it was. I hadn’t told myself how bad it was. Suicidal ideation is always in the background for me, my fantasy escape route if I need it, so it was easy not to notice that it had crossed from fantasy to concrete reality.
Sitting on that bench, I realised I needed help. But from who? I didn’t want to burden my partner, who I love, with the responsibility of knowing I was suicidal. Talking to family wasn’t an option for the same reason, and none of them live in this country anyway. Having moved to the UK only a couple of years ago, none of my friends here knew my history of mental health problems and I was keen to keep it that way. The only thing I could think to do was to go to my GP and get a referral for counselling.
So back in August 2011, I made an appointment with my GP. I checked in with the receptionist, who then asked me to weigh myself on the machine in the middle of the waiting room, as well as handing me a slip of paper with a survey about my drinking. This was just routine, but at 21 I had been diagnosed with alcohol dependency and a borderline eating disorder. Already anxious about talking to the GP about my mental health, questions on my alcohol use and weight exacerbated negative feelings associated with past poor treatment from health services. By the time the GP called me in, I’d already decided not to talk. Instead, I asked for, and received, superfluous advice about a minor hand injury.
It’s taken me 18 months of not getting better to feel desperate and exhausted enough to seek help again. Three weeks ago, a friend of ours attempted suicide and I finally felt able to share with my partner exactly how bad things had got for me and how I’m feeling now. It was hard – for me to tell, and for him to hear – but his support since then has been everything I needed it to be that it hasn’t been before now.
And today, I made another appointment to see my GP. But that’s for my next post.