World Mental Health Day: Smash the stigma and demand parity in treatment

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Today I am an Arsenal fan. Today I love house music. Today I’m keen on the odd cake. Today I have borderline personality disorder (BPD), anxiety and chronic longterm depression. A diagnosis I live with. Yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Since my diagnosis in 2010 I’ve fought then given up then fought again to live with it. I’ve bashed my head hard against the pauper NHS services to gain the treatment and support I deserve. And finally in 2015 it turned up. Almost unannounced a light returned courtesy of local NHS service for BPD I didn’t even know existed. Miracles do happen.

But unlike if I had broken a bone, immediate treatment was never available to me. Waiting lists months, sometimes years long. Imagine being told to go home from the GP with your broken leg, to wait months for an assessment and then months more for basic, limited treatment. To be denied rehabilitation for your broken body, to have to scream and write and demand and hope that maybe one day your bones will receive the care they deserve.

It would never happen – imagine the headlines if it did. But today, just months after a general election campaign where politicians promised parity between physical and mental health services in the NHS, people are still stuck on lists, going without treatment. Access to talking therapies is a right, not a vague hope, decided by postcode and poorly resourced mental health services. Beds in specialist mental health wards are being cut whilst the seriously ill are being held in police cells as no one can find them a safe place within the NHS. Young people’s first experiences of mental health treatment is through our over-stretched A&E departments whilst those who do get a bed (including children) are often placed hundreds of miles away from their home towns, family and support networks. The DWP fit for work tests humiliate and frighten, often ignoring mental health issues delivering only stress and financial difficulties.  Each is destroying lives, destroying hope.

This is not parity in the NHS for mental health and whilst it continues we must do all we can to protest the injustice so many living with mental health issues face. Whilst every effort to address the stigma surround mental illness must be celebrated and embraced, unless the health care needed to enable those with mental illness is not supplied quickly and with dignity the brave steps people take in coming out as living with a mental health diagnosis or requesting support and treatment, it will be a hollow call to care.

I’m lucky. Thanks to the support of MindOut‘s advocacy service in Brighton my five-year wait for the right treatment is finally over. The small steps I need to take to manage, live with and possibly recover from BPD have begun. Just because the part of me that is broken is complicated, difficult to care for and expensive to treat doesn’t make it any less as urgent as any other diagnosis. In a society where gender and sexuality equality is taken as a right, we must ensure the equality and dignity for those of us living with a mental health diagnosis. Deliver the care and support to the 1 in 4 living with mental health problems and you will reap the rewards. Deliver the care to people like me and the light can return.

Find out more about World Mental Health Day here. Find out how you can fight the stigma of mental health at Time to Change