"She was crying out for help, but there was no help there": one devastated mother speaks out
Updated: Jan 29
There was another heartrending article on the BBC News page last week which highlighted, once again, the terrible state of affairs for mental health provision on the current NHS system.
Gabrielle Connolly, from Belfast in Northern Ireland, died from a drug-related incident in July last year after spending months on an NHS waiting list and still failing to receive counselling.
When reading these heart-breaking stories, I am continually struck by the important messages that each one leaves behind them. This is especially true in this instance because a few months previously, Gabrielle had recorded a poignant message highlighting the issues that would in fact contribute to her death. In the video attached to the article, she says:
“People are being given these waiting times and by the time their appointment comes it’s too late.”
Gabrielle’s assertion reminds me of my own terrible experience with waiting times for therapy on the NHS. In one of my early depressive episodes, I was told that I would have to wait six months to a year for an appointment, even though I was in crisis and actively planning my suicide.
As is the case for a lot of people (particularly men), I’ve never found the thought of talking to a complete stranger about my mental health particularly appealing, so when I was told I’d have to wait for months for an appointment I felt completely demoralised, and I dismissed the offer and left.
I already had a ‘what’s the point’ mindset with my severely stunted and depressed brain twisting and manipulating my every thought and action, so what I really needed was immediate support, understanding and empathy – instead, I left feeling even more dejected, unheard, insignificant, and vulnerable than ever before.
Patients need to know that they are being taken seriously and that their lives are important. The suicidal person does not need disappointment to add to their confounded misery when their self-worth and confidence is already at such a perilous all-time low. As Gabrielle points out – people do not have time to wait, they need instant support, help and intervention.
I need to make it clear that I’m not attacking individuals here because there are some really excellent people that work in NHS mental health care, and they need encouraging and commending. But there aren’t nearly enough of them and the result is that patients are not seen anywhere near as quickly as they should be, and we end up witnessing these terrible tragedies again and again.
I’m far from alone in my thoughts and experiences of the current system and have read and heard all sorts of similar horror stories and disappointments. An example of which comes from fellow mental health writer, blogger and campaigner Eleanor Segall who finally gave up trying to get therapy on the NHS after waiting for over two years for an appointment! She writes far more passively about the situation than I do, but it’s clear from her words that she’s experienced the same level of frustration, and is as disappointed in the current system as I am.
I’m not so bothered about all this for myself, it’s more about preventing people from having to withstand and endure similar horrors. With regard to my own therapy, I realised almost immediately that this wasn’t something that I was going to be able to ‘talk’ my way out of. I identified that the illness was to blame for skewing my thoughts and not the environmental factors, so I gave up with trying to get an appointment and persisted in my quest to find an effective treatment instead.
But the psychological impact of the hospitalisations, medical fiascos, failed medications, as well as the lack of support, did all take their toll and I had to work really hard on regaining my shattered confidence even when I reached remission. Had there been the opportunity for some NHS therapy to work through some of the residual upset, I might have accepted it – as it was, I did my own therapy through quietly working away at slowly reclaiming my life one small solitary step at a time.
That was all fine for me, but I wasn’t trying to contend with drug addiction, sexual abuse, or childhood trauma on top of the losses and devastation, so I managed to salvage my sanity in my own way and on my own terms. But for those that are having to deal with the trauma of rape, addiction, bereavement, abuse and other horrific life events, getting better without professional support is just not going to be possible.
In those situations, support through therapy and counselling is vital, especially when they have no family or limited social support systems, so when help doesn’t come, they are at an even heightened risk because they already feel so isolated, unsupported and uncared for.
The situation in psychiatric hospitals is almost worse than in the community because even when you are admitted there is absolutely nothing in the way of therapy, counselling or support in the current system.
My hospital admissions have consisted of me sitting in windowsills, blocking out the pandemonium with a pair of earphones and talking to no one. The system does not get people better and everyone I speak to agrees that in fact you come out of psychiatric care more damaged than you were when you went in.
After nearly twenty years of going round in circles, fighting with unanswered phone calls, wait lists, and having my condition much worsened on the NHS, I eventually realised that the only way of getting effective treatment would be if I paid for it.
Two years and an empty bank account later, I am now finally in full remission from severe bipolar disorder. This is obviously incredible, and I now accept the trauma because just having a chance at life again is enough - but how is any of this really ok?
I realise that those with experience of the system have an important role to play in highlighting the issues and failures that plague our psychiatric system, but I also think it’s important to try to ‘lead by example’ rather than just moaning and complaining all the time.
With that point in mind, if I ever get a following and/or a ‘voice’, I will be fundraising and campaigning for changes in a constructive way, alongside some of the friends that I’ve met on my NHS psychiatric safari.
Having been so profoundly affected, we all realise the importance of saving lives and improving things for future generations, so we are all going to try to do our best to give back and support the situation ourselves!
If you would like to read the BBC News article which details Gabrielle Connolly’s story, then you can find it here.
I have also attached the video to the homepage.
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,