“A wake-up call on mental illness”

Sarah Chisnall is a Scottish public affairs consultant and mental health campaigner. She’s also married to Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West Mike Crockart.

On Sunday, she wrote a powerful piece for Scotland on Sunday talking about her experience of living with Bulimia and Depression and how she pledged to speak out to tackle the stigma attached to mental illness.

The stigma surrounding mental illness prevents us from speaking out to family, friends, let alone the wider world. I have always worried what friends might think and how it could affect my career or that of my husband, Mike Crockart, who is an MP. However, two years ago, as part of the “Time to Change Campaign” I pledged to become more open about my battles to help lift the lid, even a little, on these illnesses. I also starting reading and posting links to the mental health charity SANE and its Black Dog Campaign.

She describes the lack of NHS mental health provision and how it affected her.

As a teenager I was never referred for any specialist help, despite my lowest weight hovering at 82 pounds. My family GP recorded “anxiety”, “acute fatigue”, and prescribed Metatone and Moriamin, both supplements used in the treatment of “malnutrition, protein & vitamin deficiencies, anaemia and convalescence”. When I moved to Scotland aged 18 to study I weighed 84 pounds (I’m 5’6”).

In my twenties I waited over six months to receive cognitive and behavioural therapy. In my thirties I received various treatments including waiting another year to attend Edinburgh’s Cullen Clinic, which specialises in eating disorders. I have also paid for treatment.

I have learned to manage my depression and bulimia just as I manage my asthma. I have a toolkit of techniques to keep life on track. It can be exhausting and there are days when getting up and doing the school run feels like a mammoth task, let alone working and making decisions around food for me and my family. I still battle with my illness every day, over 30 years after I first started obsessing about food, weight and body image. I can’t avoid food, it’s a part of life and I can’t avoid life.

She wants to see mental illness treated equally:

I want to see mental illness treated equally, not as a shameful thing to be kept hidden. No-one expects me to hide my asthma or asks why I have it. No one should tolerate waiting six or 12 months or more for treatment of a physical condition. But we accept this as the norm for mental illness. It really is “Time for Change”.

You can read Sarah’s whole article here. It’s only by being open about mental illness that the stigma around it will disappear. Sarah has done all of us who heave experienced these things very proud.

Those who live in England are lucky to have a Health Minister and Deputy Prime Minister who gets what needs to be done to improve mental health provision. The most important thing any Liberal Democrat talked about last week was the Closing the Gap document which outlined 25 priorities for improving mental health services, including waiting time targets and extending the time youth and adolescent services and support are available. Norman Lamb wrote about it for us here.

Sadly, in Scotland, our health minister doesn’t get it, which already puts as behind. When vulnerable teenagers are already waiting a year to even see a specialist, and there’s a critical lack of consultant psychiatrists and psychologists, the outlook is much bleaker.

The Observer editorial on Sunday praised Nick’s work on mental health but warned that serious money needed to go behind it.

Clegg and the coalition are well intentioned. The new mental health strategy is visionary. However, without adequate resources to reverse the decline and build better foundations, and incentives for clinical commissioning groups so they do provide the services required, the economic cost of mental ill health will soar, while the human cost is already beyond measure.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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4 Comments

  • I thought that my own local mental health provider was just a poor provider. I have never tried to commit suicide (when I do I want it to succeed and so am still looking for the most assured method) but have come close, but I am shocked that someone who has tried twice to commit suicide is deemed by their initial assessment not to need the support of their local mental health team.

    Reg Yeates is correct that when someone is depressed they can’t access other agencies. Reg is also correct that someone with depression needs a “co-ordinator” with an agreed plan. Then the “co-ordinator” can contact other agencies if needed and ensure support is available for the depressed person to actually get to the help available.

  • Eddie Sammon 28th Jan '14 - 11:01pm

    I know someone who committed suicide and I don’t think they would have done it if they knew the effects it would have on their family and friends. People don’t often realise how loved they are. Try to get more help:

    http://www.mind.org.uk/
    http://www.papyrus-uk.org/

    Regarding the article: mental illness is often worse than many physical ones, so being treated as equally important should be achievable. We just need to differentiate between the people who are merely down and those suffering from mental illness, which I think is the conservative fear holding back the campaign.

  • Harold A. Maio 29th Jan '14 - 2:09am

    —–The stigma surrounding mental illness

    You victimize with your words:

    The victimizer calls it “stigma”, the victim experiences it as prejudice and discrimination.

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