I’ve been working in mental health for the last 2-3 years, and trained about 10 years ago as a psychiatric social worker, however my “in-house”training took place mainly through my family’s experience of dealing with psychiatric in-patient stays in the early 90’s and more recently support from a crisis team for a family member during two different psychotic episodes.
I recently set up and ran some consultations with people who have had first hand experience of this, and it was really tough to hear how distressing some of their experiences had been. One analogy I thought was great, was the idea of the battle weary soldier returning from the front, only to find the rest of the world was still carrying on as normal, while their world-view had changed completely. Like veterans, people living through a psychiatric crisis sometimes have post traumatic stress, due to the nature of a forced admission for care, or having to deal with the police or other emergency services when not feeling 100%. It can be just as stressful for family members as the person themselves. Worse still they often feel ashamed and embarrassed that they’ve had to go through this experience.
Things are improving, and many good people have campaigned long and hard to fight for the rights of those with a mental illness, which has influenced the UK’s government’s thinking and focus on mental health. There is still a long way to go, until a psychiatric emergency is given as much care and attention as someone experiencing heart failure or cancer. If an ambulance crew serving 1 in 4 of the population, was staffed to the same level as the psychiatric teams, would there be a public outcry?
Casualties in the battle are likely to be those who take their own life, or live with “shell-shock” from their experiences.
Not everyone who tries to take their own life, has long-term mental health conditions, but that doesn’t mean that having thoughts about it and discussing this with someone out loud, is just a “cry for help” or a false alarm.
In fact I would say the thing I’ve learnt from all my experiences personal and professional, is simply that talking really does help. However painful it is to relive past experiences, it really can help.
It doesn’t always need to be someone who is paid to listen for the talking to help, but accepting professional help isn’t a sign of weakness either. It wouldn’t be deemed “weak” to show up for physiotherapy if you had to relearn how to walk.
Knowledge about mental health matters is important and there are some excellent courses around, but it’s not the only thing that helps. As friends, colleagues or neighbours offering a smile, a friendly greeting, a comment on the weather, or a like on Facebook, we can really help someone going through a hard time.
As Christians are duty is to make it real for people that God actually cares, and can be trusted, if you ask for help. That’s why I think we need to share our experiences, not just when things are going well, but in the dark times too.
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” 1 Peter 5, v7