Dealing with mental health services can be stressful, and can add to the weight that is already on your shoulders.
However, before I start this piece, I feel the need to preface it with two points:
1) The way I talk about mental health care is based on my experience, in which it has pretty much been a constant fight to get access to adequate care. Not all experiences are like this, and some are very smooth. This advice is largely based on what to do if you encounter a similar experience to mine.
2) I know (trust me, I know) that a lot of this advice will sound impossible to do when you’re in a bad place, but I can only offer it based on what I experienced, and what has worked or what I could have done earlier that would have helped me. That’s why I included the first one (Get an advocate) so that you have someone to support you with this.
Get an advocate
If you have someone in your life that you trust, whether it’s your partner, parent, or sibling, ask them to be your advocate. If you are unwell, you may on occasion need someone to fight for you to get access to the right services. This doesn’t have to be a formal agreement, but if you give consent for MH professionals to communicate with this person about your care, then that person can contact them on your behalf at times when you feel unable to speak for yourself.
(The rest of this list is going to be about advice as if you haven’t got an advocate, so I’ll be speaking about what you can do from your perspective. If you do have an advocate, this is advice they can use if they wish).
Unfortunately, many people seeking help for mental illness fall through the gaps and get lost on long waiting lists. Be as persistent as you possibly can. It’s not right, but I’ve found that if you let up on asking for help, there’s a chance you will lose out on getting the right help.
Don’t hold back
It’s important to be brutally honest. I know that for me, I was putting all my effort into presenting well, so I wasn’t letting the MH team know exactly how bad things had become. This meant that I wasn’t considered high risk, and was often put to the back of the queue. In the meantime, I was deteriorating fast. Tell them about your worst times. Don’t put on the mask you use for everyday life.
Making sure you engage as much as you possibly can is so important. With funds and resources so pitiful (thanks, Tories), if you don’t appear to be committed to your therapy, you may find yourself discharged. I know it’s easier said than done, but if there is any possible way you can make it to your appointments, or at least phone/text to reschedule if you can’t make it, you’re less likely to be dropped. I realise this is a flaw in the system, but it’s a regrettable truth.
Write it down
Write down the names and contact details of every MH professional you speak to, and a brief bullet point list about what you spoke to them about. The MH system can be messy, and unfortunately, we are often relied on to be the one to remember who we’ve seen and at what stage we are currently. Write down as much as you can remember. You don’t need to write a transcript, but a few bullet points may prove useful.
Insist on copies of letters/reports
You are entitled to see what the MH team write in their letters to your GP, reports they make about you from a psychological assessment, copies of your care plan, and so on. Insist on receiving a copy for your own records. I’ve found that some reports on me were wildly inaccurate, and if I hadn’t asked for a copy, my records would have been completely wrong, and it may well have affected my care.
Care plan accuracy
When working with your care coordinator on your care plan (with which you should definitely be involved – if not, insist that you are), ask for everything that you want. Don’t be embarrassed. If your care coordinator is making arrangements for your care that you strongly oppose, tell them. In the case of a crisis, they will refer to the plan. It needs to be right.
If something is going wrong with your care, and either you can’t talk to your care coordinator about it or you have talked to them about it and nothing has changed, report it to PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Service). You can find leaflets in hospitals and mental health clinics, or you can find them online (click here). Don’t settle for substandard or inadequate care. Your health is important – physical or mental. PALS will investigate your report and make the changes needed to ensure you are getting the help you need.
I hope you have found these tips useful. As I said before, I totally understand that these may seem impossible to do while you’re unwell, but I can only share my experiences in the hope that it may help others to navigate the mental health system.
What useful tips would you pass on to someone else who is trying to access mental health support? Share them in the comments below.