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The Final Taboo

I’m going to ask you to imagine something. It’s alright, I can hear you. You’re saying: “oh no, what, really? I’m actually going to have to do something? Felicity, you’ve totally missed the whole point of a newspaper. A newspaper is this wonderful thing that can sit on your lap and just instinctively make you look clever; without-note the without- you actually having to do anything.” Well, I’m sorry, I know you’re probably exhausted from a night of alternating between checking Facebook and catching up with ‘Made in Chelsea’ but I have faith in you, you can do this.

Don’t worry, you don’t have to imagine anything ridiculous; the world’s still round, it’s still raining, buses are still late. What I want you to imagine is that you’ve broken your leg. How you broke it, I’ll leave up to you. I would probably break my leg tripping over a banana on the floor in Tesco (this did actually happen to me once) but you, you can break it diving to save a tiny child from a savage bear if you would like. That’s fine. Now, what do you do next? You’ve saved tiny child from savage bear, said bear has been conveniently distracted by a Morris Dancing Labrador or something, and you’re left on the ground in pain. What do you do?

What you do is obvious. You call 999 and you go to hospital. You get taken straight there, you get treated, you get better, and, well, you probably also get your picture in the local paper, being an amazing, brave, child rescuer and all. But what if it wasn’t like that? What if that didn’t happen? What if you were scared and in pain and there wasn’t an ambulance coming? What if you weren’t allowed into hospital straight away? What if they sent you home and made you wait for months, even years, to be seen? What if you were shunted from doctor to doctor? Well, you’re going to say, I can’t imagine that. No, it is hard to imagine that because, despite the fact that we moan and we moan and we moan about our NHS, it does take our physical injuries seriously. What it does not always do, however, is take mental illness seriously.

Statistics vary, but around one in four of us will get a mental illness in our lifetime.  Four in ten of us will get cancer; but while both these illnesses are devastating and potentially life-threatening, only one of them is always recognised as such. For example, according to an article published by The Guardian last year, one in six people believe that lack of will power and self-discipline is responsible for some mental illnesses; while around 22 percent of people do not think of mental illness as a ‘real’ illness. The worst thing we can do to people with mental disorders is to deny that they are suffering,; to suggest that what they’re going through isn’t a proper illness, and to therefore belittle and ignore their pain. Imagine that you’ve broken your leg, saved that cute kid Tommy from that evil bear, gone to the hospital, and been sent away because ‘there isn’t anything wrong with you.’  Imagine being told by a trained, professional doctor that you’re just making a fuss. See, the point is, that would never happen to you, oh noble child rescuer with the broken leg. That would never happen you to because your broken leg can be seen and touched. Mental illness doesn’t show up on an x-ray, but that does not mean for one moment that it’s any less serious.

The underlying principle of the NHS is that all people deserve free healthcare. You might have to wait for a very long time; you might have to sit on skanky orange plastic chairs, (why, just why are they always orange?); you might have nothing but Mars bars to eat, because the vending machines in Casualty departments are always half empty and wholly shit, but eventually, you will be seen. That’s a given. Health care and treatment is a right we all have in this country. It is not, however, a given for people with a mental illness. Patients do not have a right to many therapy based treatments. We claim, as a country, to see and treat mental illness in the same way we do any other illness, and yet, unlike any other, some of its most effective treatments are considered an indulgence, and not a legal right.

A report by the Schizophrenia Commission, released only days ago, showed huge issues still prevalent in mental healthcare. Patients often see a string of different psychiatrists, are frequently misdiagnosed, heavily reliant on medication, and even denied certain treatments, in particular therapy based ones. Saddest of all, though, is the lack of basic kindness and compassion with which these people are often treated. I’m going to make a wild assumption here. I’m going to assume you probably know five or more people. If you don’t, that’s totally fine; there is absolutely nothing wrong with only knowing four people, nothing wrong at all. I’m sure they’re four very nice people, and that’s all that matters. If you do know more than five people, though, whether or not you are aware of it, chances are you know somebody with a mental health issue. It is an illness that affects all of us in one way or another, and it’s about time we gave it the attention it deserves.

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