Reflections on World Mental Health Day

Back in 2007, when Nick Clegg made mental health the focus of his first major speech as Lib Dem Leader, it was pretty groundbreaking. And we walked the walk as well as talked the talk. Arguably the most successful part of our time in coalition was Norman Lamb’s work as mental health minister. Not only did he do so much to talk about mental ill health and so challenge the stigma, but he improved mental health services for people.

I often wished Scotland had a Norman Lamb. It took years for the SNP Government to update its mental health strategy and even now young people have to wait for such a long time to be seen. The pandemic has made that even worse. I know a young person who was seriously self-harming who had to wait for over a year for an appointment with a consultant. The impact that can have on education is seismic. If you have to wait a year to be seen and then another year at least before you actually start to feel like you can function, that is a third of your secondary education gone, just like that.

Over the past year and a half, my mental health has ricocheted between terrible and just about getting through the day with a smile on my face. The election campaign and its aftermath broke me and I ended up having two months off work at the beginning of the is year because I had reached the end of my ability to cope. In reality, I’d had nothing in the tank for a good while but kept ploughing on regardless, relying on adrenaline to get me through. That heaps on its own special kind of exhaustion. Sure, you can do your job and get through the day but it is so incredibly tiring until  eventually you just can’t.

What helped me earlier this year was my GP taking one look at me and sending me off to a community wellbeing hub where I had someone help me untangle all the stress, classes to help understand what was going on, a stress management course which took up my Wednesday evenings for a couple of months and, for the first time in my life, I went to a Yoga class. Believe me, I am terrible at Yoga, but it is very good at calming me down.

I’ve always thought that peer support is an essential part of recovery from anything, whether it’s breastfeeding problems or Cancer or stress. Meeting other people going through the same thing and listening to their experiences and what had helped them was invaluable.

The stress management course took place in a lecture theatre in a local high school. That’s not a tiny room by any stretch of the imagination and it was pretty full. So it shows that this is a widespread problem.

That I was ready to go back to work, even if that was pretty difficult at first, after two months was pretty miraculous and, I think, directly attributable to that support. Twenty five years before, it had taken six months before I even started to feel human and a good eighteen months before I could function normally.

Unfortunately that wellbeing hub was an early casualty of Covid. I hope that they get it up and running again at some point. It was such an oasis of calm.

Six months into Covid, many people, including me, are starting to feel like we’ve just hit a wall in our ability to get through it. The vivid dreams full of loss and tragedy that were a feature of early lockdown are back and my poor husband is having them too. Not, obviously, the exact same ones, but there is a theme.

Lib Dem legend Candy Piercy posted a link to this Twitter thread by Toronto based International Security Professor Aisha Ahmad, which I found very helpful. She suggests that we just need to wait for this to pass and if we can get through the day having met our obligations and been kind to people, we are doing very well. It is well worth clicking through and reading the whole thread.

My workload has been a fairy unrelenting Covid-related tsunami since about three weeks after I went back and I’m constantly surprised that I get through each week without buckling, but, so far, so good.  I did try and set up some support structures for myself and others at the start which have been useful. I also like my colleagues and find it very helpful for team morale that we meet together at the start of the day. It really helps with the sense of isolation. There are very many positives.

What’s also been helpful is being able to be open about mental health. I was reminded this week that this is not the same for everybody. Someone I know went off work sick and instead of inventing some physical complaint was open that it was a mental health issue. They are really worried about the impact this will have on them but felt that they had to be do it.

My annual leave this coming week is very welcome, though, and I’m looking forward to slowing down the pace of my life, spending time outside in different places (near to home as we have restrictions in force.)

I am not finding it easy to be my best self at the moment, so if you are wondering why I haven’t been able to keep as many plates spinning as usual over the past year, this is it. I know that many of you will have had similar things to deal with and I totally understand how hard it is.

On World Mental Health Day, it’s a chance to consider what we need to do to make sure that everyone has access to good quality mental health support that they can access without stigma. Mental ill health is hard enough, but if you feel like you have to punch your way through a layer of judgement and lack of understanding, it becomes even more stressful.

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