The Time Has Come…..

Lewis Carroll: Through The Looking Glass

Funnily enough, I won’t be talking about any of those things in this post, though there is a temptation to think about when pigs might have the wings to fly. But I’ll pass on that, for now. The ‘many things’ I have in mind are the reasons why I have been away from here for some time. I’m sharing them to show how easily what we believe to be the equilibrium of our lives can be unbalanced. Last week, when I began writing this, was Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW), and that seemed as good a time as any for a post which has mental health as its underlying theme. MHAW is organised by the Mental Health Foundation, and you can find out more about it from their website. I wasn’t really following their theme for this year – how our body image can affect our mental health – so it was perhaps just as well that this wasn’t intended to be an ‘official’ post in support of the week, as it is now late! But taking care of our mental health, whatever the context, is something of which we should all be mindful at all times.

So, why have I been AWOL? This goes back a while. I have a condition called lymphoedema, which can only be managed, but never completely cured. I had needed to restart the treatment for this for some time, but managed to go into denial and become reclusive about it. Whilst I was doing that – with the obvious signs of needing some support for my mental health – I received the news that my landlords wanted me to move out at the end of my rental contract, so that they could sell the flat. Whilst this is always a risk when you live in private rental accommodation, I have lived here since my divorce, eleven and a half years ago, and I felt very destabilised by this. So that was two pressures which were causing me stress and anxiety – not the best basis on which to build a successful search for a new home! Anyone familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs will recognise that the foundations of my personal pyramid were on shaky ground:

I needed to do something to improve my situation: sadly, that was much easier said than done. But, to cut a long story short, I’m now receiving excellent treatment for my physical health, and am more confident about that part of my life than I have been for the past couple of years. And to cut another story short, I have had the amazing luck that the flat across the hall from mine will become vacant at the end of the month, so I can move in there. It will still be a lot of upheaval, but nothing like as much as it could have been. I like the area where I live, so this is the ideal solution, and it means that I can maintain continuity in my healthcare without having to transfer to a new service. As my needs are long term, this is important to me.

Unsurprisingly, I think my mental health has improved, and I have felt a noticeable boost since I received the news last week about my new flat. This is probably just as well, as there doesn’t appear to be any support for that here. I had an assessment a few weeks ago, which described me as suffering ‘mild geriatric depression.’ Inclusion of the word ‘geriatric’ didn’t help! The mental health professional who was working with me gave me the bad news that as I was only a mild case I didn’t meet the specialist services’ threshold to be treated. She recommended the county Well-being and Support service. But this is where Catch 22 came in: that service is for people aged 18 to 65, and as I had reached the decrepit old age of 65 seven months previously, I didn’t qualify for their support either. I spent a fair amount of time on the website of the NHS Trust which provides mental health services in this area, but could find absolutely nothing for people of my age. They claim to provide services for all age groups, but there isn’t a specific section on their site dedicated to ‘older adults,’ and the links in other sections didn’t seem to work. It isn’t good for people who may need help not to be able to find it easily, so I’d made up my mind to call them for advice, but hadn’t got round to it before the good news about a new home. I’d also asked my GP Practice for advice but they hadn’t come up with anything either. It was beginning to look as if I just had to keep my fingers crossed that the new flat would improve my mental health situation, but quite by chance the nurse looking after my bandage change told me of a voluntary service operating in this area, so if I still feel the need for some support once I’ve got moving out of the way I can give them a call.

There may well be other services that could help me, but if a specialist professional, my GP Practice and the Trust’s website can’t direct me to these, where are they? Setting aside my own situation, there is something rather worrying about the lack of mental health support for older adults in this area. I wonder if this is just a quirk of the local system, or whether this is a more widespread issue? The current system supposedly places the commissioning of services in the hands of clinicians – Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCG) to give them their proper name. But as I have mentioned in previous posts, even when money is clearly ring-fenced for the provision of mental health services the CCGs tend to divert it towards physical care services. Frankly, I think this is a disgrace, and the fact that it has been allowed to happen and to continue does, I believe, reveal a failing of the system of performance monitoring which is supposed to oversee the CCGs’ work.

I know there are intolerable pressures on funding but it does rather seem as though I’m now part of a twilight zone of the forgotten and unimportant. I feel strong enough to bear that, but I wouldn’t mind betting that there are a great many older people who aren’t so strong, and may not be getting the support they need. There is a danger that people will fall between the cracks between heath and social care: I was referred to our local social services but, having established that I am solvent and am perfectly capable of washing, dressing and feeding myself they have closed the referral. Others may not be so fortunate in their circumstances, and it is to our country’s shame that so much effort and resources are being wasted on the ridiculously pointless and unnecessary Brexit, that important issues are being ignored. Hopefully, the dreaded Brexit will finally be resolved soon, and we will be able to tiptoe through the wreckage to see what remains for the provision of mental health services for older people, if anything. Or maybe all we’ll see is the occasional pig flying past. I’ll let you know how Flying Pig Watch goes, and if I can find any services to support me and others like me.

 

Mental Health Awareness Week 2018

A couple of weeks ago, when I shared Feeling Good? – For Mental Health Awareness Week I said that I was in two minds about posting again for the actual week itself, as the theme this year was Stress, and I didn’t feel that I was qualified to write about that any more, having, I thought, managed to remove most of the stress factors from my life since I retired.

The week is organised by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), who do a great deal of good in raising awareness of mental health issues and supporting those in need of help. Their website can be found here and is well worth a visit. It was they who have prompted me to post this: I’ve been on their email list for a long time, and a recent email from them invited me to take their ‘stress test.’ I thought I might as well, and did so in the expectation of a very low score. What I got was this:

This came as a bit of a surprise. These tests are, by nature, a little subjective, but I had done my best to be honest with myself – there wouldn’t have been much point if I hadn’t! But even to be as high as on the cusp between low and moderate has made me think. Maybe I’m not doing as well as I thought? What should I do to improve things. You can see from the image that the MHF offer a ‘Be Mindful’ course to help reduce stress levels and I followed the link to it. I’m not sure that it is for me, or that I’d be spending the £30 wisely, when there are so many courses, books, videos and apps available at a much lower cost. This might seem shortsighted to you, but I’m a pensioner on a budget!

What this test result has done is to get me thinking. I still don’t think I have any major stress factors in my life, though my main concern – my physical health – has potential for this. But it’s not like I’ve experienced in the past. As well as my long period off work in 2011-12 with depression, I was also away for three months in 2006-7 with what my GP called a ‘stress-related illness.’ That was at the time when I was starting to go through a divorce, and there were obvious reasons for the way I was feeling. But I don’t have those now, so why should I be scoring even low numbers on the test? I need to take a look at myself, I think, and work out if there’s anything I should be doing to prevent those numbers going up. And therein lies the lesson for us all, and the reason why organisations like the MHF exist to help us.

As part of the week, they have published a number of short videos on YouTube. I’m going to share a couple with you here. Firstly, a general one explains what stress is, and how it can lead to mental health problems:

The MHF has also undertaken a survey to find out how we think we are coping with our lives. In this brief video, they present a few of the key findings from the survey:

I find it shocking that 74% of us feel that we aren’t coping, and that this figure is even higher amongst the 18-24 age group. Last week, the Parliamentary Select Committees for Health and Education issued a joint report which called on the Government to make good on its promises to improve mental health education and treatment for young people: it appears that they need to give this the highest priority now, and not lose sight of this in the midst of everything else they are trying to deal with. Young people are the future of this country, and we shouldn’t be failing them.

I make no apology for the fact that this post is focused on the UK, because that is where I live and know most about. But mental health issues affect every country in the world, don’t they? May has been marked as Mental Health Awareness Month in the US since 1949, and is organised by Mental Health America, whose website can be found here. Their theme this year is ‘Fitness #4mind4body.’ Whilst the theme may be different, the underlying message is clear: we all need to be doing more to improve our own mental health and to help others. And that goes for governments, too.

Feeling Good? – For Mental Health Awareness Week

As Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) is looming on the horizon again (14-20 May here in the UK) I thought it would be worthwhile sharing again the post I wrote to mark last year’s event. I haven’t decided whether to write something new for this year, so it seemed right to do something to draw attention to MHAW now in case I don’t get around to a new post.

As I’ve often said, I began blogging to share my experience of depression and mental illness, and whilst I’ve strayed quite a lot from that it will always be a subject that matters to me, and to which I will always return at some point. The theme for this year’s MHAW is ‘stress’ – and that’s why I’m in two minds about writing something specific for this year. Having retired nearly five years ago I’ve now managed to remove stress almost entirely from my life, and don’t feel that qualified to write about it now. Maybe I can do something from memory, as the pressures of juggling work and family life, and the stresses that brings on, are still there in the canyons of my mind (bonus points if you get that obscure musical reference!).

If you follow the link in the original piece you will find the website of the Mental Health Foundation, who organise MHAW. There are many good resources on this site, so if you are worried for yourself or someone close to you, do take a look. Don’t do what I did all those years ago, and close your mind to your situation. Take it from me and my experience: there is help to be found out there, but it won’t seek you out – it’s up to you to reach for it. I hope you don’t need it, but it’s always good to know it’s there, just in case.

Take It Easy

A post for Mental Health Awareness Week

Many of you have started following my blog in the past year or so, and may not be aware that I originally began this over four years ago to share my experience of depression, in the hope that it would help others. From the comments I’ve received since then it appears that this has happened far more than I could ever have hoped, although I admit to having strayed off message quite a lot since then. You will probably also be unaware that I ran a series of ‘Dates To Note’ about key days in the calendar, mostly around health and social care. They can be found from the menu above, if you’re interested. Not wanting this to become stale or repetitive – I can do that without setting myself up for it – I stopped these as a regular feature two or…

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