Posted October 08th 2020
What follows is a powerful account of Natasha’s experience of bipolar disorder and accessing mental health care and support.
This year’s World Mental Health Day theme is Mental Health for All: Greater investment, greater access.
I’ve been reflecting on parts of my journey, questioning what would have made the journey easier and scrutinizing practices that I feel could be improved to ensure fewer people fall through the gaps.
At times I feel like I fell into a huge hole and I have had to dig my way out.
Yet the barriers in place because of the crisis I suffered meant that hole was much deeper than it ever should have been.
If more people can have access to treatment and therapies when difficulties arise, how much difference would this make?
Sadly it seems that the system, all too often, can only support those in crisis or the most vulnerable in society.
Certainly in my journey, I feel that the crisis I ended up in 2018 could have easily been avoided. Had the support been available much earlier.
I did ask for support but the lack of funding left me facing the difficulties and I was suffering on my own. Friends and family tried to help but at times this exasperated situations and I really needed professional support.
I was on an upward cycle toward mania, scared but I knew I needed help.
Crying out for support but constantly being rejected, because I had too much insight in the eyes of the professionals. What the system saw as too much insight left me alone and within a matter of months, life had spiralled out of control.
- My relationships suffered
- I was unable to work because I couldn’t cope
- I experienced serious problems within my family, resulting in family court hearings
- After being sectioned I was told by the DVLA I couldn’t drive
All of these things have had a huge impact on my life and left me picking up the pieces.
I know that for at least one month of my life I was very vulnerable and even simple things were difficult. I was a different person to the person one who I’ve always strived to be and my moods and personality were out of control.
I have a warm and bubbly personality and love being in others’ company but I also enjoy time alone. I love my job as a primary school teacher and love the energy and excitement of teaching young children brings (yet this was not possible due to my condition).
I have now returned to the classroom and I am loving this part of my life once again.
When I have been really unwell and in hypo-manic phases, so many places were so overstimulating. Making everyday life impossible.
I had been suffering from anxiety and depression on and off since my mother completed suicide in 2004. Despite this, I was functioning and achieving in areas of my life.
The only support ever offered was short-term medication or a referral to the well-being service. The well-being service always took a long wait for an assessment.
In early 2016, I had my first hospital admission due to a manic episode triggered by anti-depressants. I was a voluntary patient on the advice of my GP.
During my stay in the hospital, I did attend a Health Kicks session for people suffering from mental health and disabilities. I continued attending this for over a year. Luckily this signposted other opportunities for me. As the Red Rose Chain Community Theatre became a significant part of my journey.
Many free services run by charities and support groups are out there and hopefully, greater funding will allow for GP services and community mental health teams to signpost these to people.
After a very short hospital stay, I was supported for a short period of time. Firstly by the crisis team whist, I stayed in a respite for a few days.
I then had weekly or fortnightly visits from an amazing support worker from the IDT and I can have no complaints about the care.
However, once this stopped and I was transferred back to the care of my GP. I was on my own again.
Life was fairly stable until January 2018 and from this point onwards I could not get help or support.
By the time it came, I was sadly sectioned and I needed a far greater level of support over the next six months. My care was expensive and earlier interventions would have cost the NHS less money.
In January 2018 my relationship broke down and I was struggling to cope. I suffered from both periods of depression and high elevated moods. In April 2018, I suffered from chronic depression and this resulted in a diagnosis of Bipolar.
I saw a consultant psychiatrist we talked through the medications that could control my mood and he gave me some reading to look through. I saw him again a week later and I began taking a different medication.
This part of my care was fantastic, I felt informed and really able to decide on what medications to try and the impact they would have.
I do have concerns that I am now on long-term medication and the damage it may cause to my liver and would love to strive to lower my mediation. However, the system wouldn’t be able to offer me an alternative therapy and help me manage and monitor this.
Between January and August 2018, I approached my doctors on three separate occasions to receive additional support. On each occasion, a letter was written to community mental health services.
On the first occasion, I received a letter after a week stating I had too much insight and was managing, that my feelings were linked to my social circumstances. On the other two occasions, I had a visit from the assessment team but the same outcome followed, a letter stating I didn’t need support.
By the beginning of August 2018, I had to stop working. I was phoning the crisis team quite often. I was hyper-manic and rapid cycling and I knew this.
I was eventually given a care co-ordinator who visited me one Friday at the beginning of August and wrote a care plan with me that Sunday evening I was sectioned.
It felt like the care plan was put in place as I was at high risk of needing hospital treatment… I still wish that this happened as soon as the diagnosis was given and that a care worker could have helped me from that point but the funding is just not there.
After this hospital admission, I was then supported by the community mental health team and visited by my lovely, caring and supportive care coordinator fortnightly with regular reviews from the consultant. I learned about the recovery college and attended about four short courses.
I feel there were fundamental errors and missed opportunities to put support in place, which ultimately led to me being sectioned, the consequences of which turned my life upside down.
It took me a long time to rebuild and grow but I have come through this stronger and with more self-awareness and determination.
I feel my diagnosis could have been spotted and diagnosed much earlier and often wonder if this would have given me greater access to support?
Overwhelmingly I feel that my story could have been so very different if there was greater investment. Ultimately leading to early intervention and support avoiding the crisis I ended up in.
Although it sounds very negative I want to take the opportunity to say a massive thank you to the organisations that have supported me every step of the way.
If you are a family member supporting someone in crisis helping them to find community support groups and services might be key to helping them manage their condition.
Groups and services
- Total Voice Suffolk Advocacy Service really helped me address my care needs and put additional support in place after leaving the hospital. They also supported me to write a letter of complaint about the issues I faced for me it was important to raise my concerns.
- Inspire’s Health Kicks sessions enabled me to play community football twice a week. This was fantastic as being out of work I couldn’t afford the gym or team sports. They also supported me emotionally and building my confidence and self-esteem.
- Work Well Suffolk, run by Suffolk Mind, supported me to take that step and get back to work. The service was again much more than expected the sessions were reassuring and really helped look at the barriers to work.
- The Red Rose Chain – Avenue Community Theatre is a company for adults with disabilities, learning difficulties and adults struggling with mental health and addiction. They come together weekly to create thought-provoking theatre and film that challenges the way society views vulnerable adults and those who are different. This organisation has been an amazing part of my journey. When I joined I could have never imagined just how much it could have helped me learn, grow and feel apart of something that has become so special to me. Thank you Jo Carrick, Katy Frost and the rest of the team. You will always have a very special place in my heart.
In my area, there are so many other organisations and community groups that I have learned about and I often signpost other friends to them.
You may find that there is an organisation in your area supporting people who are struggling with mental health.
You may find a group that aids someone’s recovery or even your own.
- Conditions we study: Bipolar Disorder
- Bipolar Education Programme Cymru (BEPC): in-person course based in Wales and our recent online taster sessions
- Bipolar UK – a charity for people with bipolar disorder
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