This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday...
It hasn’t been easy putting together a national review of mental health services with four people, volunteer help and no budget. But it’s nothing compared to the courage over 500 people had to speak out about their experiences of a system that is supposed to be there to help.
We like to think that talking about depression, anxiety and other difficulties has become easier, and in many ways that’s true. Easier or not, it certainly should lead to help.
Except that 93 per cent of people who told their story to the People’s Mental Health Review were unsatisfied with mental health services, and the most common problem?
Difficulty accessing support.
Despite what we might think, asking for help is hard. Having to open up, reach out, talk to a complete stranger at a time when you feel lost, overwhelmed.
That’s why it is so heartbreaking that we now know for sure that gaining access is the number one difficulty people have with the mental health system. Heartbreaking that when people finally have the courage to reach out, they’re turned away.
At the root of so many people’s experience of mental health challenges is believing their thoughts, feelings and opinions are invalid. This experience of having our emotions written off as wrong, inappropriate, too much, or over the top is damaging. It makes it hard to trust and believe our own emotional responses.
So when the system says “no” it’s no surprise many hear “your feelings don’t matter”. It is also no surprise many give up hope at this point, sometimes with tragic consequences.
No doubt over the next few days there will be many opinions, views and counter-views about what we should now do. We even had a few of our own, as part of our People’s Mental Health Report.
But perhaps we should all take time to do something very simple. Perhaps we should all take the time to stop and listen, listen to the voices of the people who had the courage to risk telling their story in the hope it would make things better. Listen so we can respect their experiences and start fixing things.
From the People’s Mental Health Report:
“Some people said what they really wanted was simply someone who could take the time to listen, and many people said that they wanted mental health professionals to listen to them:
“It’s actually pretty simple. Talk less, listen more. Don’t listen to answer-listen to understand. You have two ears and one mouth-even your own physical body since birth has afforded you a clue that shutting up rather than talking might just be more beneficial.”
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