Trigger warning: I'll be talking about bad stuff (sorry I've never done trigger warnings before, not really sure what I'm supposed to do)
I know when people normally put "My story" as the title we all expect some kind of tearjerker, but I'm pleased to say that's not the case. I'm one of the fortunate people who has never really suffered from mental health problems. I don't get stressed to easily, and if I feel it coming on, a cup of tea and some biscuits normally does the trick. I'm not an anxious person, nor have I ever had any suicidal thoughts and I've never self harmed. Up until 2012, in my small friendship groups, I cannot remember anyone having problems of any kind. If they did, they certainly never told me about it.
This caused me to have the opinion that mental health problems were either made up by attention seekers, or those who suffered were people to avoid at all costs. I'd use words like "nutcase", "looney" and "bat shit crazy" to describe them, and struggled to see the human inside, and definitely struggle to empathise with how and why they may have ended up like this. There were opinions held by many close to me as well and these views had been instilled in me over a huge part of my life.
I guess some might say that as a result I'm not really in a position to talk about mental health with any authority and they have a good point, but here is what I've observed over the last few years and I think an outsiders perspective could be interesting.
As a touring musician, I get to meet a lot people and I try my best to build good relationships with my supporters and through my house shows and social media, I've really gotten to know some people very well. In 2012, I started to notice a few teenagers at gigs turning up with bandages on their arms, or sometimes with their scars or cuts out uncovered for all to see. This troubled me, but I never said anything to them as I really didn't see it as my place. I mentioned it to a few people and the usual noises were spouted, "they were probably just attention seeking" etc. but the sheer quantity of people who I was seeing in these situations, and the fact that socially I was getting to know them as humans and seeing them as normal made me realise that my old opinions were probably misinformed.
I started looking around online about this, and found that there were twitter, tumblr and instagram accounts that glorified self harm, and I started to think that it might even be a fashion thing. I thought back to my school days, where no one knew anyone who had self harmed, and we were never exposed to any images of such things. In my mind I created a story in which I was lucky because ignorance of such things in my teenage years meant I never thought to try such things in order to appear "different" - instead I wore combat trousers, flowery shirts, and was known to have cross dressed every now and then (going to a boys school in Essex, this kind of behaviour would definitely made me an outsider, where everyone was trying to be cool in their Ben Sherman shirts and trying everything they can to make sure they could never be called gay, but that's another blog altogether).
To a very small extent, I think there may be an element of truth to my "ignorance is bliss" theory, and unfortunately there may well be some teenagers who tried self harm just because they saw others doing it. However, and I really want to stress this. I really do believe that this is a very small minority, and I don't think they're doing it out of spite.
However, I then kept talking to people about it, and not just to teenagers but to people in their twenties, thirties and forties and it quickly became apparent that I didn't know a thing when it came to the struggle that a lot of people have with their mental health, and that self harm was just the tip of the very big iceberg.
There is one girl I know, who is currently in a hospital due to a voice in her head, and the treatment she has been getting has really been appalling. I don't believe that the doctors and carers are trying to make her worse, they just don't have the resources to give her the attention and support that she needs. Plus I'm not sure that placing a lot of mentally ill people all in one place is that good of an idea. She often tells me about how the other patients trigger her by their behaviour or from them telling their stories. I suppose for some, it's a good support network, but I'm not sure it works for all.
When this girl was first sectioned, she was put into a hospital that was over 2 hours away from her family. When I posted on twitter about my outrage at this, it turns out that this wasn't an uncommon thing, and I heard stories of how patients were sometimes the other side of the country from their families, and they were always told that it was because a lack of beds in the area. I did some research into this and it turned out that there were plenty of beds, but the government had only made provisions for a certain number of beds to be used and had allocated these beds to hospitals regardless of whether the demand was in that region.
I'll try and explain this better. If there is a mental health hospital in Glasgow that has 25 available beds, the government may only choose to fund 15 of those. So if you're the 16 person in Glasgow to need a bed, you'll have to go to the closest hospital that has a funded bed available. Rather than just reallocating resources based on needs, they send the patients around to where the resources are. Which often isolates the person away from their friends and family. Now I don't know about you, but doesn't that seem counter productive? If I was trying to recover from a mental health problem, I'd want to have visits from my friends and family as regularly as possible. I find this even more troubling for those who are under 18 or even worse under 16. Miles away from home, all alone in a hospital with your demons doesn't sound like a good way to get rid of them to me!
Added to that, she was in the hospital for over 6 months before she even started therapy. I'm not sure that just staying in a hospital with no treatment other than some drugs is every a good idea. My understanding about medication for mental health patients is that it's designed to help you cope with your symptoms and help you get through the days, but it's not a long term solution for getting you into a place where you don't need the meds. Therapy must exists hand in hand with the medication.
This is just one story of someone that I know, and I've got others I could share, but this post is already long enough. My point after all this writing is this. Mental health needs to talked about. There should be no such thing as ignorance around this subject. Over the last few years I've educated myself on what is going in this country and changed my own opinions on those who previously I would have described as "people who claim they have mental health problems". It's an illness, it's not something that people make up for attention.
There should be no stigma attached to those who suffer. Mental health problems are an illness, we don't pass judgement on those with the flu or cancer. We do what we can to support them in getting better.
The problem is that mental health illnesses are so much more complex to cure. There is no one size fits all package that will help, and more investment and support is needed to help those who suffer and to try and pick up on those who are vulnerable to experiencing such illnesses and support them before it develops. This isn't going to be cheap or easy, but it's essential.
For those of you who think that we can't afford to fund it, there is a strong economic case for curing mental health problems. Someone who suffers is either unable to work, or less productive. Cure them, or help them get back in control, and you'll have a better workforce helping the economy grow and thus supplying more tax to fund such project.
However, the government seems to be cutting all health services and they're on their knees, even for more established and conventional treatments. As a result charities such as Mind are becoming more and more important, and we as a population need to fund these.
That is why I'm doing my 10 hour gig on October 14th, and why I'm looking for donations and sponsorship. This is the first charity event I've organised in years, and I think that says a lot about how important I feel this issue is, and highlights further exactly how far I've come on my own journey of understanding what is actually going on. Please get involved: www.justgiving.com/davejgiles You can also donate via text. Text the number 70070 with the code "DJGM85" followed by the amount you wish to donate.
I've tried to be honest about where I was and where I now am. I've still got a lot to learn, but if I can change my attitude, then anyone can.