When I started experiencing difficulties with my mental health, I was worried that I would be judged by those around me, by those employing me and by those who didn’t understand what I was going through. That which I hadn’t considered though was was the possibility of being judged, or even discriminated against, by the people who were supposed to be the most open and understanding people when it came to mental health: the professionals.
In all initial mental health assessments, I’ve been asked whether I smoke, how often I drink alcohol, whether I’ve ever taken any illicit drugs, whether I’ve smoked weed, whether I could be pregnant, whether I was abused as a child and whether or not I’d been in care. When all of the answers to the aforementioned questions was negative, I was met with a somewhat taken aback reaction. In the ‘outside world’, being able to answer negatively to these questions would be a positive thing, but in the world of mental health services, it moves you down the ladder with regard to your ‘need’ for treatment and support.
After six years of being passed between various specialist teams, care coordinators and psychiatrists, I started to wish (unbelievably sadly) that I could have answered ‘yes’ to at least one of those questions – perhaps someone would have taken me more seriously if I had a ‘reason’ for the way I was feeling. In some ways I think if I was actively participating in dangerous behaviours or going home to an unstable environment, accessing support would be a lot more straight forward. Instead, because I was going home to a loving family, had excelled at school and wasn’t at risk of having a bad trip or drinking excessively, I was deemed less of a threat to society and therefore able to be left without treatment for a longer period of time.
Whilst those who take drugs, abuse alcohol or have had a difficult upbringing are more likely to struggle later in their lives with their mental health, not everyone who struggles has such an obvious trigger. However, on so many occasions, I’ve been told that I’m not the ‘type’ to be under psychological treatment and that I don’t have the ‘classic’ background that warrants therapy. Whether the health professionals are accustomed to treating a certain ‘type’ of patient or not, I didn’t expect to see these prejudices and presumptions being exhibited by those delivering the care.
I understand to some extent that if someone is going to go home to an abusive environment or they are at risk of accidentally overdosing, then there is perhaps a more imminent need to intervene in order to ensure their safety. However, this shouldn’t mean that those who come from a more stable background don’t deserve treatment or aren’t in a ‘serious’ enough condition to warrant help. It’s a sad fact but I honestly believe that many people are falling through holes in the mental health service because they don’t tick the common boxes which are almost seen as a ‘requirement’ for treatment.