I would like to share my experiences of the NHS mental health services. I have found it a patchy service at best, with very little flexibility. I am not saying that you should not seek help with mental health issues, there are some positives in the mental health system, but it is far from an ideal service and needs a lot of changes to make it work better for more people.
My first experience of therapy for mental health came aged eleven or twelve when I was referred by my GP after my mum asked. I think she had to ask more than once. I was diagnosed with OCD by the psychologist. I had talking therapy once a week, often with my mum. I got a new psychologist later who put me on medication for my OCD. I am still on that medication. I think it used to help, but no longer think it does anything for my OCD. No doctor willing to properly review it. One doctor did agree it probably did nothing for me now as I would have become immune to it and put me on a much lower dose as you can’t simply come off it. I know it is one of the hardest medications to come off and the side effects of not taking it for three days once when I ran out at university were awful. I do not know if the medication has any side-affects as I have been on it so long I am no longer sure what is me and what is the medication. It could be one of the reasons I am tired so much and would love to be able to try life without it, but right now that does not seem possible.
I started group therapy once a week for a couple of terms. I am not sure if it was helpful or not, but I liked going as it got me out of school for the morning. The trouble was I did not fit in with the others very well and some of them could have been a bad influence. Some of the girls tried to talk me into smoking with them during the break, not that I ever did.
Autism, more specifically Asperger’s syndrome were raised as something I may have. I can’t remember if it was my mum who brought it up or if my psychologist mentioned it first, but I remember it being discussed. However I never was sent for testing, which I do not understand as I clearly had major issues and think it would have helped a lot to have a formal diagnosis.
At the age of thirteen I left my first secondary school as I was being bullied very badly and the school was not really addressing it properly, nor were they helping me with my mental and physical issues which were clearly getting worse. I ended up spending a term in a new education program for children struggling with school run by the childrens mental health services. It was just a classroom in the mental health services building and not really a school, but it was better than nothing. Then I ended up in a special needs school, supposedly for those with physical disabilities, but I think my hip was just an excuse and really it was the fact that no other school would have me and the education authority did not know where else to put me. I think my report from my previous school may have put other schools off. I admit I had become very difficult to teach by this point, having become very angry a lot of the time and not really being able to handle it.
I had anger management therapy for a few sessions with a mental health nurse. This was based around mindfulness. It helped me a little bit, but mindfulness only works if you can feel the anger coming before it is too late, which often I cannot. The trouble is I tend to go from fine to angry in about a nano second, which gives me no time to put the mindfulness in place.
When I turned sixteen I left the children’s mental health service and that seemed to be that. I was not transferred to adult services. Some years later I asked my GP for support with my mental health and I was offered counselling through my surgery. It was not very helpful as I did not get many sessions and I do not think the guy really understood my problems. A few years later at university I had some counselling that was more helpful to me. I think it helped that she was used to working with students so it was more tailored to my situation at the time. She taught me about mind maps, which helped with my coursework to make it seem less daunting and stressful.
Since then I have gone to my GP for support with my mental health and been told about the anxiety and depression service. I have tried this service twice, once for depression and once for my OCD. As a self referral service I found it hard to get an appointment. Last time I had to ring them three times before they answered the phone and they totally ignored my emails. For depression this is not helpful, a depressed person is not very likely to keep trying once they fail to get through. Once you do get an appointment you are told you get twelve sessions mostly over the phone. I found phone therapy very unhelpful as it meant I could sit at home and wallow in my depression or lie about how much of the homework I had actually done. I found the phone calls quite uncomfortable and would just say what I thought he wanted to hear to get it over with as quickly as possible. When it came to therapy for my OCD I found it pretty much useless. The only kind of therapy they seem to offer is CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). At first the program seemed to be helping a bit, but I soon realised it only got rid of one OCD trait to replace it with another. The therapy never looked at the causes of my OCD behaviour, just the individual symptoms. Despite specifically asking to have only face to face appointments, I was soon given only phone calls, which were not very affective. The next stage was to sign me up with an online program that only therapists could add you to. Some of the exercises on the program required that you logged in daily to the site. I did tell my therapist that I was in the process of moving and had no internet in my new flat, but despite this she kept on at me to use the program. Some of the exercises were simply impossible to do in the local library where I often access the internet. In the end I gave up as even the exercises I could do seemed to not be helping. I have since been told that CBT will not help me anyway as I am autistic and it hardly ever works for people on the spectrum, so that was a waste of time. No other service is offered for OCD on the NHS in my area according to my GP.
Last year I was finally diagnosed as High Functioning Autistic or Asperger’s after my mental health assessment flagged it up as something to get tested for. I was about thirteen when it first came up as a possible diagnosis and it took till I was thirty-one to be tested!
I find it hard to get a GP or anyone else in the health service to take my mental health problems seriously. I have never self-harmed or been suicidal which maybe one reason I get so little support, despite finding my anxiety and OCD crippling some days. I have never had a psychologist as an adult. I did get some support from one GP after I cried in an appointment and asked to sign on as too sick to work. She got me a mental health assessment, the first and only one I have had as an adult. This did help as it led to some positive changes in my life. However I think it helped that I had changed surgeries not long before this as my previous surgery had always seemed to dismiss my mental health problems.
I think mental health services need to be more flexible to meet a patients needs. People end up costing the NHS more if they are left till they are so ill they need hospitalizing or longer term care. CBT and mindfulness therapy is proven to work well for a lot of people, but it is not going to suite everyone, yet they seem to be the only things the NHS offer. Even if it does help, you get so few sessions that as soon as you make a tiny bit of progress the therapy runs out and you go back to square one. I think the NHS would save money if they invested in better mental health services, as some physical symptoms can be brought on by mental health issues being left untreated.