Some will know my story, related in my book: “Outside the Camp”, that my becoming a full time community worker and later activist, starting from around the turn of the millennium, was a lot to do with my interest in mental health and wanting to make a difference given the many gaps in terms of unmet needs that I saw with the community. One of the results of this was helping start a project called “Growing Together” (that I am pleased to say is still going strong), which was all about helping people with mental health issues. Many of my thoughts on mental health, particularly from my perspective as a Christian believer, are included in my book: “Spirituality and Mental Health”, which has been revised several times over the years. Partly spurred on as a result of experiencing doubts and dark thoughts in recent days, as a result of my own mental health issues, I pen these thoughts now.
In recent months, I have reflected, with a degree of consternation, on the state of the NHS, in particular my blogs “Crisis in the NHS (1)”, “Homelessness and Mental Health” and “St. Lukes Health Centre (2)”. My view is that while there are many bright spots in the NHS, there is a crisis of leadership and many health needs go unmet, and this should and can be avoided. As we approach the General Election, I find myself listening with interest to the debates going on and wait with limited hope to find politicians having something meaningful to say that will address the concerns I have raised in these blogs, and sadly with some disappointment. Mental health is a case in hand, not just among the homeless but I suspect in many sectors of our society, among all sorts of people in all sorts of situations. There may be little that can be done because if the issue is as big as people like me believe it is there is no possible way for services to be provided that can adequately meet all these needs, begging the question whether there needs to be another approach.
Other than stating the obvious like we individually encouraging those with a mental health issue to seek the help that is that is available and being part of the help provided e.g. by being a good neighbor and showing basic human kindness (and helping create a culture where this happens), it is difficult to come up with something new. I know all too well how difficult it is to admit the need and ask for help. Many struggle, and coming back to the type of people I typically deal with, besides getting the help they need (bio-medical, psycho-social therapy etc.) there are issues like being able to find the right benefit / job / training / housing, etc. and just simply being able to play a full part in our community and to be able to live with hope and dignity and enjoy some degree of quality of life. My own experience both personally and working in the community testifies to how important these things are.
I am not writing this to rant as it wouldn’t achieve much, but much of what I have said I have said already and it still applies. Speaking personally, I can look back now on my own life, where mental health problems, in particular depression, has been a recurring theme. While I cannot claim to have fully overcome these problems, I am learning to do so and can empathise with many who I can see that are struggling. There is no magic cure, for even as a gospel preacher I would be doing a disservice if I told folk all they needed to do was believe and everything will be alright. But as I reflected in my book, there is light at the end of the tunnel and it is just a matter of believing it and believing we are worth it as people. We can live full lives irrespective of whatever barrier (mental or other) that we are faced with. It is our birthright, and it can be done.