‘This is Me’ is a new VOX (Voices of Experience) blog series highlighting individual lived experiences of mental health problems. In this series, VOX members across Scotland share their stories and reflect on what must change to ensure positive mental health for all.
This series will explore a range of themes including barriers to accessing mental health services, isolation and loneliness, and the intersection of poverty and mental health. Please note some experiences shared may cause distress.
What are your experiences?
I am passionate about mental health – I tend to help others rather than myself!
With regards to stigma and discrimination, I have had a hell of a week with energy problems. Recently, I had a bad couple of weeks with my mental health and during that period I received a letter from my energy company to advise my contract was up this month (I had previously been advised the contract was up in four months’ time, so had thought I was okay until then). I was already feeling stressed and I went online, cancelled with the energy company, and moved to another energy provider who took me on. My mental health was really bad for two or three weeks and when I got my ‘senses’ back, I realised a direct debit of £157 had been taken from my new energy provider.
I felt discriminated against when I tried to explain the situation: the provider told me they ‘didn’t understand a word’ due to my accent. After explaining four times, I was told it would be a £60 disconnection fee as it was outwith the 14 days ‘cool off’ period. I advised them I was bad with my mental health and was told “What do you want me to do?”. Their attitude and way they were speaking to me was unacceptable. Throughout all of this I was transferred to seven different people to explain my situation.
There has to be a law out there to support people with mental health problems. I had to deal with it all during a period of poor mental health – there was lack of dignity, and lot of discrimination. I have difficulty with anything to do with money. With the rising costs of utilities, this has an impact where everything now has to be done online and having to navigate the process of contacting providers.
What matters to you in your life?
My dog, Candy. If I didn’t have my dog, I wouldn’t be here. She helps me talk to people on the street – if not for her I wouldn’t get up and get out. She helps me with my mental health. There has been a lot of discussion about therapy animals in care homes and one time I went for a walk around with Candy where we came across a minibus with older people. Candy ran over and jumped on the bus. They were all petting her, and she jumped on an old woman’s lap who hugged and cuddled her. Candy made them leave the park thirty minutes later than they were supposed to!
She is my everything. This wee dog gives me structure, routine, meaning, and purpose. My life is run by Candy – she rules the roost!
When I moved into a new area, I didn’t know anyone but when I walked down people would pet the dog. I am known as ‘Candy’s daddy’ and if I am out without her, I am asked where she is. During the pandemic I had bad anxiety, but I had no anxiety when I was out with her.
What matters to you in your mental health?
Voice! Without your voice, people don’t know how you feel. If it wasn’t for my voice, I wouldn’t be involved in organisations like VOX Scotland, Mental Health Network, and others. You need to use your voice to help yourself, but also to help others. I will help everyone – I was unwell three weeks ago, and I was doing everything for everyone else. I have been with Mental Health Network for five years with support from the network.
Sharing my lived experience is important to me. If I am not happy, I have to say I’m not happy. I spoke up at a recent mental health & invisible illnesses event – I made my voice heard and was given a standing ovation. In previous employment, I was treated unfairly because of my mental health, I downloaded resources and, using my human rights, presented this to my employer to highlight how I should have been supported. Business employers don’t know how to manage employees who present with mental health issues and difficulties, this is a gap that needs addressed.
I am ASIST trained; however, it is now out of date, to get those updates and more training you need to be involved with an organisation. Covid has dropped back mental health services ten years. It feels like we are back to the dark ages – whereas before we were getting somewhere. Plus, with Ukraine war, I have given donations. You have to help others, and in Glasgow – and indeed Scotland more widely – we look after both our “ain” and others.
Why do you get involved in all this training?
I have undertaken Suicide Talk in 2018, Safe Talk 2019, ASIST 2019, Open University 2021 and have a clear PVG disclosure. I do all this to help myself, and to help others. It gives me the knowledge. I don’t ask for help, I sit and struggle, I need to have the “oomph” to do something.
What one thing would you like to see in the world of mental health?
Support and communication! I read that doctors are overwhelmed now having to see people. How can you check a patient with a rash over the phone? I have spoken with GP Managers over last couple of years and had difficulties trying to listen to a receptionist where it then goes to an answer machine. You are now asked ‘what is wrong with your mental health?’ but I don’t get much assistance from my GP.
Over the years the NHS have not been there for their customers and patients. We need to train doctors, new locum doctors seems to have their heads screwed on, but older doctors are still working from the dark ages and don’t seem willing to use new conventional medicines to help mental health. The first time I moved to a new GP, they didn’t know about my mental health. I needed a CPN and help and was referred to the local resource centre. I was going to groups to support my mental health, I was assessed at a resource centre for 2 weeks, and then told I was already doing what they would have offered. They don’t have a clue, and doors are still being slammed in my face.
My GP referred me to wellbeing nearly a year and a half on I still haven’t heard back. I had to hunt for help myself to find a counsellor and I accessed Wellbeing Scotland who have done me proud and have been brilliant in helping with both childhood traumas and my main depression and anxiety. And I thought CBT wasn’t working but some parts of it has helped.
There are no real opportunities for lived experience to get more involved in mental health. If you give your feedback I would like to see what happens to the consultation paperwork. Service users need to see the report whether it is published or unpublished.
What are your hopes and aspirations for the future?
Support! People who have mental health issues need support and to be listened to. We need the NHS to listen! We have to bring “big wigs” from NHS into our groups to listen to lived experience. We can write it all up, pass it on and pass it on until all it says is ‘mental health’. All the different groups should come together so we can send a message.
What do you want to say to use your voice?
I have childhood trauma and over the past twelve or thirteen years I have had mental health issues. I would go back in the past and tell myself, ‘talk to someone who will listen, and be adamant’.
What do you want to shout out loud?
Lived experience needs to be heard, needs to be out there, needs to be spoken. People need to know about lived experience and what other people are saying. It is important to speak about your mental health. Without other people speaking about what they are going through, you think ‘am I the only person?’. Speak to people and try to get help!