Opinion: Mental health support is for everyone – we all have brains to look after #MHAW15

I’m not having a life crisis. I’ve never suffered from depression or any other clinically recognised mental health condition. I’ve taken ownership of things that have happened to me in the past, the way they have affected my behaviour and made changes. Yet I still regularly visit a counsellor – why is that?

Is it because I wear a top-knot, work for a charity and hang out in bars in East London? Just another hipster tosser who cares too much about his own existence?

Well, maybe. But I don’t feel that way.

My backstory isn’t the point here, so I’ll only touch upon it briefly. As a kid in a working class setting, my young parents struggled to bring me and my brothers up and the stresses that came with it destroyed my relationship with them. I ended up kicked out at the age of 15, moved in with my grandparents and spent the best part of the next ten years shutting them out of my life.

Blissfully unaware – and insistent that I was ‘over it’ and that my estrangement ‘didn’t bother me’ – the impact of such a broken relationship went on to destroy the only adult loving relationships I’ve had to date.

The first relationship breakdown was more blatant. I was too aggressive, too ready to argue and, though it still took me time to understand my behaviour was unacceptable, it was easier to identify once I did start reluctantly seeing the help of a counsellor. After around twelve weeks, I was done and I took great pride in my new self-aware self.

But perhaps that was my biggest mistake. I took on the counselling course like it was just that – a course to be completed. I went through the process, tackled a specific issue and moved on. Now that is perfectly fine and works for many people, but I can’t help but suspect that my reluctance to continue was in part due to the stigma that is associated with seeking mental health support.

Too often mental health support is seen as for people who suffer from a severe mental illness or those that are going through some sort of life crisis or tackling a major issue like addiction. But it isn’t. Mental health support is for everyone – we all have brains to look after.

Admittedly, the second time I went back into counselling I probably went in with the same mindset. My latest relationship was breaking down, I had just lost my grandfather who became a father figure in my life and I felt that the moment may have come to restart my relationship with my parents.

But this time I became more accustomed to what this support was for. Not only did I come to understand myself better than ever before, but I stopped seeing the sessions as a course to be completed and instead saw it as part of an ongoing process that will stick with me for life. I have tentatively hit reset my relationship with my parents, but this wasn’t the real achievement. The real achievement was that I continued to see my counsellor with no real direction and come to realise the value of paying attention to my thoughts in on itself.

Like a check up at the dentist or the doctors, I go in seemingly fine and then discover little bits and pieces that can be worked on. I’m not leaning on the support like a crutch, I’m just looking after myself mentally in the same way I would respect my body physically.

This is why I’m so frustrated with the accessibility of the service. I’m fortunate enough to be able to afford private sessions now, but I wouldn’t have been able to when I was younger and the waiting list on the NHS is disgusting. More importantly, I wouldn’t have considered it an option when I was younger because of all the stigma and misconceptions around it. As a result, millions of people that need this support, perhaps more than I do, are effectively denied it.

It is for these reasons that I was immensely proud of the Liberal Democrats for putting equity between mental and physical health at the centre of their recent general election campaign.

A strained relationship with my parents, a couple of relationship breakdowns, and the passing of a relative. My story is not special.

Your solution may not be the same either. Counselling isn’t the only option and, in this Mental Health Awareness Week, if all you decide to do is google something you’ve thought about before, it would be a start. I want seeking out mental health support to be normalised.

There will be episodes and moments in your life that have deeply affected the way you behave and who you are – there is no shame in seeking to understand those better.

* Bobby Dean was the candidate in Lewisham Deptford in 2017

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  • Bobby Dean,
    Thank you for your interesting and very honest article. It will make people think.

    The underfunding of mental health services in the NHS in 2015 as you describe it has of course been made worse by the year on year cuts in funding during the period of the Coalition.
    I expect you regret the fact that splendid though the manifesto commitment is we cannot really point to our record in government with too much pride.
    The explicit statement from Nick Clegg of a policy of equity between physical health and mental health was welcomed by everyone in the party. It is just such a pity that it came at the end of his period in government and not at the beginning. Whilst we were very much the “junior partners” in a conservative led government if this subject had been pushed earlier with the same determination as Nick Clegg had in pushing tax cuts we might hve seen an increase in expenditure in mental health rather than cuts.

    in rebuilding the party we need to learn these sorts of lessons but that does not stop the campaign for improved funding for mental health. My own preference would be for greater thought to be given to a preventative approach rather than just a treatment approach and I wonder if you have any views on that? Your point about “normalisation” is perhaps key to this?

  • Hi John

    Thanks for taking the time to comment. I would agree that it is a shame that the huge focus on mental health came a little later on in the coalition but I still think it was a ballsy thing to put it front and centre even at this late stage.

    My point about normalisation does indicate a preventative rather than treatment approach, but I would also say that it goes further still. These terms ‘prevent’ and ‘treat’ make the domain of mental health sound like it only applies to people who are at risk of or suffer from a recognised mental health condition.

    We don’t think about physical health this way. We accept that everyone can do things to look after their bodies and that it’s worth keeping a check on now and again. I want people to think in the same way about their minds.

  • Good article, Bobby.

    While adequate funding is critical – how mental health conditions are treated are just as important as is the range of alternatives to drug theraphies that are made available from the NHS.

    I received the following report and message from The Organization for the Respect for the Individuality of Human Beings (Orhib) during the recent election campaign and would urge Libdemvoice members to read the report.

    The report is available at https://www.slideshare.net/secret/pfTHrdXeOG6JH7

    The director of Orhib noted:

    “Please do remember that those that manage to get out of the system and pursue their path in life without psychiatric treatment usually prefer to keep quiet about it. If they are detained again, and object to psychiatric treatment, they are deemed to lack insight and put on horrible anti-psychotic depot injections. And however much campaigning against stigma, it will always remain, so people who have been detained and escaped further treatment, keep quiet.

    We don’t see enough protests on these issues from the people who know the most about it. Those who have been through the system often suffer from the effects of accelerated dementia (as a result of psychiatric treatment, which is not necessary to prevent harm to self or others – read report), so their objections appear impassioned and incoherent, and are disregarded.

    Obviously, organizations campaigning for this have very little financing, so I am relying on you and the Liberal Democrats to take the campaign (to be able to refuse treatment if even deemed incapable of taking a decision) forward.

    The current LibDem policy on Mental Health appears still to put full trust in psychiatrists and sees mental health as a condition that can be treated.”

  • Bobby

    I agree with you 100% when you say —

    “…These terms ‘prevent’ and ‘treat’ make the domain of mental health sound like it only applies to people who are at risk of or suffer from a recognised mental health condition.

    We don’t think about physical health this way. We accept that everyone can do things to look after their bodies and that it’s worth keeping a check on now and again. I want people to think in the same way about their minds.”

    You are right to point people in this direction. I was a little worried that some of the statements that came from the party on this subject were too much about funding treatment and not enough about maintaining and promoting good mental health.

  • Sally Haynes-Preece 15th May '15 - 8:09pm

    I am a stress counsellor and holistic therapist. I have also suffered from depression.. Mental health takes the same kind of dedication as physical health. We all accept we need to maintain our physical health…..but too few of us realise we also need regular ‘exercise’ to maintain our mental health. I was pleased with the manifesto commitment to give mental health equal priority with physical health. It needs to stay in the manifesto and in ever manifesto until it actually happens

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