We can’t wait around for the NHS to magically find a pot of money for help young people with mental issues. We have to take responsibility for ourselves – and whilst that’s scary, it’s 100% possible.
I make no secret of the fact that I was categorically failed by CAMHS. I speak out about this because I am not alone – in fact I’ve never spoken to a young person with mental health problems (eating disorders in particular) who has had a good experience with them. But I’m not going to share my own ‘horror story’ in this article – because that’s not the point here.
Those of us who have ever struggled with mental health below the age of 16 (whether it be Depression, Anxiety or OCD) know that it’s impossible to depend on the NHS – and CAMHS in particular. In the news we’re consistently learning of young people who have been failed time and again by services until they sadly lost their battle with themselves. Like everyone campaigning for better mental health and awareness I am desperate for something to change in the system. But I don’t think that waiting for change is the answer.
Often we hear about the negative (and devastating) outcomes of CAMHS failure. Usually young people are driven to suicide, or lose their battle with Anorexia. This is so, so sad. But the reason I share my story is that I was one of the lucky ones – and if I pulled through after being failed so badly then that gives hope to anyone else in the same position.
Instead of saying ‘The NHS is shit and left me to die’ and leaving it at that (or dwelling upon the gory details of it) I share a message of hope and positivity. I promote the alternative – which shouldn’t be necessary, but sadly is. The alternative is going it alone – which may sound scary. It may sound impossible – and certainly health professionals and psychologists wouldn’t recommend it. But what are young people desperately in need of help supposed to do when the help they need isn’t there for them to access? Most people can’t afford private therapy – so they depend on the NHS for support. The good news is that you CAN do this yourself.
I can’t speak for every mental health issue. Some almost certainly need professional intervention and medication to be managed effectively. I can only speak from experience about the issues I have personally dealt with over the years – Depression, OCD, Anorexia, Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Anxiety Disorder. It makes for long reading on my medical notes!
I want to explain that all the mental health diagnoses I’ve listed above had one root cause – my beliefs. I’d formed and impacted my beliefs over time until deep down inside me, subconsciously, I believed I was worthless. Hated. Ugly inside and out. Even though the conditions above aren’t all related, they all came from one root cause.
I started with OCD as a coping mechanism. Then I developed Anorexia. And when I thought I’d got over that I started to struggle with deep Depression and self-harm. Now I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder which I manage well. And I also manage my beliefs. It’s taken time and I’m not perfect (I have panic attacks, I get manic, I struggle, I’m perfectionistic) but I’m okay. I’m not in danger. I love my life – I live my life to the full. I value myself. But the point is that every single one of these had the same root cause – my negative beliefs.
So if this ‘recovery’ is possible for me (read my definition of recovery here) then it’s surely possible for everyone. Although I never had professional support from CAMHS or the NHS I’ve been lucky enough to have the support of my parents throughout this. I set up Tough Cookie to offer support to people who may or may not have people going through this with them. I know how hard it is to face an eating disorder alone – to go through self-harm alone. I understand that being ignored or swatted away by services is devastating because that seems like the only option for survival. But it isn’t.
One of the biggest things that helped me was getting to know myself. Understanding my beliefs and why I had them. Managing myself – knowing my triggers and dealing with or avoiding them. Although it was hard over time I did get better. I’m not ‘over it’ – I don’t think I ever will be – this is me, this is part of me. But I’m not in danger anymore. And with time you can also live like this.
Please remember on your darkest days that you are not alone. When you think ‘I can’t get through this’ remember that you can – I did! We can all do this. Don’t dwell on the reasons why you can’t. Think about how you can – and why you want to. Focus on your future. Believe that it’s possible.
I had a dream throughout all of this. I wanted to live abroad and be a writer. So many people told me that wasn’t possible. To lower my expectations and set my sights on something ‘realistic’. And at the time I believed I was stupid and didn’t deserve to live – that my life would never be worth living. But now ten years after I was hospitalised with Anorexia I run my own writing business and I’m fulfilling my dream of living abroad. I didn’t have a privileged upbringing – I didn’t go to university. I just stayed determined and persevered with my dream in mind. So never underestimate the power of your dreams – and remember that you are worth fighting for, your life is worth fighting for, and that this is not impossible – however impossible it may seem right now.