Following on from yesterday’s rant, I thought I’d try to blog something a bit more positive today. Instead of focussing on the very real struggles I’m having with the mental health system – I want talk about the kind of support that would really help instead. A few of my friends are nurses and they often feel really overwhelmed and despondent too – in a system where medication is the treatment of choice for psychosis, they feel almost as powerless as I do.

OK, so I don’t want meds. What do I want?

Respect – For me, this is key. I want people to listen to me, understand that I am an expert in my own experience and respect this. I want to feel that the people who support me see me as a fellow human being with rights, responsibilities, skills and strengths. It’s not rocket science.

Empathy – It really helps if someone who wants to be supportive to me spends a little time getting to know me and tries to see things from my point of view. It doesn’t take years of training to develop an empathic approach – but it does take a willingness to walk around in someone else’s shoes for a while and an awareness of your own beliefs and prejudices.

Space – I get really nervous in appointments with mental health professionals. I ramble and struggle to make eye contact (and I’m well aware that this doesn’t make me appear like the most ‘together’ of human beings). All I need, though, is the space to explain myself (and someone who understands the value of this space). It’s easier for me to get my words out if I know someone is listening and that they’re not typing on their computer or waiting for me to shut up.

Flexibility – Like most people, I need different types of support at different times. I work, so the typical 9-5 support structure doesn’t work well for me. I end up having to choose between my job (which gives me a real sense of purpose and solidity – central to my recovery) and accessing support. A support structure that’s flexible enough to support me whilst I’m working (and responsive enough to provide extra help when I’m unable to) … well, that would be worth its weight in gold.

Balance – The doctor/patient power differential is huge. The doctor is seen as all-knowing and all-powerful whilst the patient is often seen as vulnerable and unwell. For me, and for many people like me, a more even balance would be much more healthy. The doctor may be an expert in their field, but I’ve been training in the real world and have my own field of expertise too (that of personal experience). An atmosphere of mutual respect and collaboration work much better for me than peering up from the ditch I feel forced into.

Open-mindedness – I honestly don’t expect everyone that wants to support me to agree with the way in which I view my voices and other experiences. That’s OK – there’s no one way to see the world. What I do expect, however, is that people will keep their minds as open as possible and not try to force me to accept their beliefs above my own.

Hope – I believe I can beat this. I need the people who support me to believe it too. I’m not asking for unrealistic blue sky thinking – I’m fully aware of the risks and the difficulties involved in withdrawing from medication. What I really need is pragmatic optimism. People who are willing to help me to plan and problem-solve, without getting lost in the difficult stuff. Recovery is less of a battle if you’ve got people rooting for you (and helping out where they can)

I have lots of the skills I need to manage my voices/paranoia already – so I don’t need a teacher. What I do need is people to walk beside me, encourage me and help me keep on track when things get difficult. A friend of mine talks a lot about supporters ‘holding the hope’ for people when they are really low and unable to hold it themselves. Sometimes, in my darkest hours, I need this too.

At the moment, this isn’t something I can get from the mental health system. In the past, there have been CPNs, OTs and support workers who have been willing (and able) to offer these simple (but extremely powerful) things. So, if you’re reading this and work in the mental health system – it IS possible.

Luckily I have family, friends and co-workers that I can trust to be with me. It feels wrong that it’s down to luck when these things really should be the foundation of all support services for those who, like me, become emotionally distressed.

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