World Mental Health Day 2021

‘MENTAL HEALTH IN AN UNEQUAL WORLD’

As I’m sure many of you know, today is World Mental Health Day and the theme, chosen by the Mental Health Foundation, is ‘mental health in an unequal world.’ WHO seems to be building it around the pandemic, rather than as a problem of its own, but from what I’ve seen in the newsletters and on the social medias of many mental health charities and organisations, most seem to be following the lead of the Mental Health Foundation.

According to the Mental Health Foundation’s website: “2020 highlighted inequalities due to race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, and the lack of respect for human rights in many countries, including for people living with mental health conditions. Such inequalities have an impact on people’s mental health. This theme, chosen for 2021, will highlight that access to mental health services remains unequal, with between 75% to 95% of people with mental disorders in low and middle-income countries unable to access mental health services at all, and access in high income countries is not much better.” It goes on to say: “Many people with a mental illness do not receive the treatment that they are entitled to and deserve and together with their families and carers continue to experience stigma and discrimination… The stigma and discrimination experienced by people who experience mental ill health not only affects that person’s physical and mental health, stigma also affects their educational opportunities, current and future earning and job prospects, and also affects their families and loved ones.”

Statistics provided by Mind (x)


I have my own experience with the mental health system – which I do want to touch on – and have heard from many others about their experiences but I wanted to read into the research around these inequalities further, both to get a better factual understanding and to put my own experience in context (beyond an anecdotal one). The research is sporadic at best but here are some of the statistics I found…

ACCESS TO MENTAL HEALTH CARE

  • “NICE [The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] recommends that people should be able to access services when they need them. However the proportion of people who felt they had definitely seen NHS mental health services enough for their needs reduced from 47% in 2014 to 43% in 2018.” (x)
  • In 2020, it was reported that approximately 1 in 3 people who experience mental health problems are able to access the support they need. (x)

From these statistics, it’s clear that far too many people aren’t getting the support that they need.

INEQUALITIES IN ACCESS TO TREATMENT (x)

  • For those with common mental health problems, 36.2% reported receiving treatment.
  • Women are more likely than men to receive treatment for all mental health conditions, with 15% of women receiving treatment compared to 9% of men.
  • Young people aged 16-24 were found to be less likely to receive mental health treatment than any other age group.
  • White British people are more likely to receive mental health treatment (13.3%) compared to BAME groups (7%). The lowest percentage of people receiving treatment were those from black ethnic minority groups (6.2%).

These statistics clearly show the disparities in the availability of treatment, more supporting evidence for the statement that the Mental Health Foundation is making with the theme for this World Mental Health Day.

YOUNG PEOPLE

  • “There is very little national information about mental health services for children and young people, and what information there is suggests quality is declining. [Research] indicates substantial cuts to services, increasing demand, increasing thresholds for treatment, very long waits (more than a year) for specialist services, and a resultant decline in accessibility.” (x)
  • Approximately 1 in 3 children and young people with a diagnosable mental health condition get access to NHS care and treatment. (x)
  • More than 338,000 children were referred to CAMHS in 2017, but less than a third received treatment within the year. (x)
  • Around 75% of young people experiencing a mental health problem are forced to wait so long their condition gets worse or are unable to access any treatment at all. (x)
  • In a YoungMinds survey, three-quarters (76%) of parents said that their child’s mental health had deteriorated while waiting for support from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). (x)

This research all indicates that young people in particular are being let down by the health care system.

SECONDARY [LONG TERM] CARE

  • Demand for secondary care (which generally treats people with severe mental health problems) is increasing, and there is evidence to suggest services are becoming less accessible… There is little information available on the outcomes that services achieve.” (x)
  • “There is no high quality national information on waiting times for secondary mental health services. In a 2014 survey, 20% of people with severe mental illness who were offered talking therapy reported waiting more than a year to access it.” (x)

The statistics show not just that the need for mental health care is increasing but the need for long term mental health care is increasing but that it’s also very difficult to access.

HIDDEN WAITING LISTS (x)

“A study of 513 British adults diagnosed with a mental illness also reveals the damaging consequences that hidden waiting lists – the wait between referral and second appointments – have on the lives of patients living with severe or common mental illness.”

  • “Of those on a hidden waiting list, nearly two thirds (64%) wait more than four weeks between their initial assessment and second appointment. One in four (23%) wait more than three months and one in nine (11%) wait longer than six months.”
  • Respondents living with severe mental illness – including eating disorders, bipolar disorder and PTSD – were left waiting up to two years for treatment. Others were left waiting up to four years for treatment for depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.”
  • Two-fifths (38%) reported that they, or someone on their behalf, had contacted emergency or crisis services while waiting for their second appointment, while 39% said that waiting led to a decline in their mental health.”

It’s clear that, beyond the difficulty of even getting into the mental health care system, once in it, the process of actually getting the support you need is much too slow – so slow in fact that it’s exacerbating the mental health problems that those waiting are seeking help for.


Now I want to look at my experience of getting support for my mental health…

  • For more than two years, I was repeatedly dismissed and had my feelings and experiences invalidated by multiple doctors and services. No one took me seriously. Eventually, my Mum took me to a private psychiatrist and I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Depression, and OCD. Having had no idea what I was struggling with, I’d done a lot of research and asked about the quiet presentation of Borderline Personality Disorder, which my psychiatrist initially rejected but then reconsidered and diagnosed me with it after reading my research and personal notes (it has since been recommended to me multiple times – sometimes by doctors who don’t even know me – that I have this diagnosis removed from my file because “people might make assumptions”). Getting an NHS referral for an Autism Diagnostic Assessment was similarly difficult as he felt that I didn’t fit the classic presentation (I do apparently fit the classic FEMALE presentation though).
  • There was no follow up after this diagnosis and we were told there was no support available so my Mum investigated private therapists. I tried CBT for a while but didn’t find it helpful so I tried DBT instead, which has been a much better fit.
  • All of this private treatment is obviously not cheap and I am so beyond grateful that my family is fortunate enough to support me financially. I honestly don’t know where I’d be without it, whether I’d even be here. But the cost of it does cause me significant worry, only adding to the anxiety I already experience.
  • With so many of my problems connected to my Autism, had this whole process been… easier, simpler, quicker, less traumatic, or something… so many of my health problems wouldn’t have deteriorated to the level that they have. Had I been diagnosed earlier – had even one medical professional believed me – things might’ve been so different. I try not to dwell on that because there’s no point wasting my energy on what might have been but it is the truth.
  • Having said that, considering some of the stories that I’ve read or have had shared with me, my story isn’t that bad. I’m positively lucky compared to some and that’s a confusing, complicated thing to say, knowing how traumatic this has all been… and continues to be.

Since then, I’ve developed near constant chronic pain throughout my body – something that’s obviously had a big impact on my mental health – but over a year later, I’m still waiting for the NHS physiotherapy and hydrotherapy referrals to go through. I have started Occupational Therapy and with the Pain Clinic (both through the NHS) but with the end of my Masters, I had to take a break because they were too painful and/or upsetting to manage alongside all the work. I’m starting back this week. It still bothers me that no one’s ever even tried to find out why the pain started though.

Almost six years after my ASD diagnosis, the Neurobehavioural Clinic called to offer me an appointment, to do what I had no idea. But at the end of the two part session, I’d been diagnosed with Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and ADHD – aged twenty six – both conditions having gone unnoticed because no one had ever taken my associated problems (problems that have been there my whole life) seriously. They’re both conditions that often occur alongside ASD. The hEDS diagnosis would, in theory, push my physiotherapy and hydrotherapy referrals but, as I said, I haven’t heard anything and almost a year later, my ADHD is still untreated. My psychiatrist was happy to ‘move’ that condition to his care but the consultant I saw didn’t want that, which is especially frustrating because she’s so difficult to get in contact with.

And finally, I may be getting answers to another ongoing medical problem: severe dizziness, light-headedness, nausea, physical weakness, and breathlessness when I stand up for too long. We’ve been trying to get support around this for so long that I can’t even remember when it started. This too may well be related to my Autism and I can’t help thinking that it’s another thing that should’ve been discovered sooner.

All of these things have had a profound impact on my mental health and going through the agonising process of diagnosis again and again has left me wary, fearful, and angry at medical professionals. It’s deeply ingrained in me to be polite and respectful but it doesn’t take much to send me flying off the handle; I walk into each appointment feeling like a tightly coiled spring. I leave pretty much every appointment in tears at best, raging at worst. Because I’m so. freaking. tired. of feeling like this. Of feeling like no one believes me, of being made to feel like I don’t know what I’m talking about, of being made to feel like I don’t know what I’m feeling. I feel so worn down by the constant let downs. At this point, I think I’m only going back because I don’t know what else to do.


I have no doubt that social media will be filled with nice words and encouraging quotes today. But we need more than that. World Mental Health Day is about more than that. Or it should be. It should be about pushing for change and improvement. The Mental Health Foundation is absolutely right that the inequalities in the mental health care system need to be addressed but looking at these statistics, it’s also clear that the standard of care needs to be better. For everyone’s sake. After all, there’s very little difference between not getting any support and being on a list waiting years for support.

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Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

So May is here and Mental Health Awareness Week has rolled around again. This year the theme is nature, which I was initially unsure about but after reading The Mental Health Foundation’s website, it made a lot more sense to me, even if I wouldn’t have necessarily made the same choice…

  • “During long months of the pandemic, millions of us turned to nature. Our research on the mental health impacts of the pandemic showed going for walks outside was one of our top coping strategies and 45% of us reported being in green spaces had been vital for our mental health. Websites which showed footage from webcams of wildlife saw hits increase by over 2000%. Wider studies also found that during lockdowns, people not only spent more time in nature but were noticing it more. It was as if we were re-discovering at our most fragile point our fundamental human need to connect with nature.”
  • “Nature is so central to our psychological and emotional health, that it’s almost impossible to realise good mental health for all without a greater connection to the natural world… During Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, we will pull together the evidence that demonstrates the powerful benefits of nature for our mental health. We will look at nature’s unique ability to not only bring consolation in times of stress, but also increase our creativity, empathy and a sense of wonder. It turns out that it is not just being in nature but how we open ourselves up and interact with nature that counts. We will show that even small contacts with nature can reduce feelings of social isolation and be effective in protecting our mental health, and preventing distress.”
  • “We have two clear aims. Firstly, to inspire more people to connect with nature in new ways, noticing the impact that this connection can have for their mental health. Secondly, to convince decision makers at all levels that access to and quality of nature is a mental health and social justice issue as well as an environmental one.”
  • “2021 is going be a huge year for nature: a new Environment Bill will go through the UK Parliament which will shape the natural world for generations to come; the UK will host the G7 nations where creating a greener future will be a key priority and a historic international UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) will be hosted in Glasgow in November. There could not be a more important time to understand the links between nature and mental health.”

So, with all of that in mind, I thought I’d make a list of all the nature-related things that make me happy. The list started out pretty short but the more I thought about it, the more things came to mind. I could’ve kept going but I decided to stop before the post got out of control. We all know me and lists…


1. THUNDERSTORMS / RAIN

I love thunderstorms. I mean, I freaking love them. I love the thunder; I love the lightning; I love the pouring rain; I love how the air feels. I read that thunderstorms release negative ions into the atmosphere and that’s what makes the air feel electric and invigorating after a storm (x); I love that feeling. There’s something so incredible and powerful and emotional about thunderstorms; I don’t really know how to explain that response but that’s how they feel. They make me feel really alive in a way that nothing else does.

“There was a crash of thunder, the sky shattering right above our heads.” – Abby Geni


2. THE CATS PLAYING IN THE GARDEN

As soon as it starts getting warmer and drier, my cats are out in the garden all day every day. We basically only see them for meals. Most of the time they lounge around in the grass, soaking up the sun, or in shady corners, when it gets too hot, but they also play, which is just the most adorable thing in the world. They dig, they chase butterflies and bees, they pounce on unseen things, they bat at the wavy grasses, they chase each other, rolling around and leaping in the air… It’s so cute. It’s like nothing else exists, something that’s been a source of calm for me over the last eighteen months.

“Concrete is heavy; iron is hard — but the grass will prevail.” – Edward Abbey


3. THE BEACHES IN NORFOLK

I mean, I’ll take any beach going because I love beaches but the beaches in Norfolk have always been extra special for me. I can’t really explain it. Those beaches are one of the few things that make me feel like I’m in sync with the world when usually I feel like I’m not, like I’m on a different frequency to everyone else. But the sand, the sea, the sky, the air… it makes me feel more real. If that makes any sense at all.

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“Nature’s law is stronger than any little law you have made for yourself.” – Frank A. De Puy


4. MY YELLOW ROSES / MAGNOLIA TREES

When we moved into the ‘new’ house, there was a yellow rose bush and every year, it blooms magnificently. It’s utterly stunning with these huge, liquid gold roses and I fell in love with it from the first flower. I look forward to them every year and I love watching more and more buds open and practically shine in the sun. The petals are big and soft and gorgeous too. The plant itself is taller than me now and even as the family member least inclined to gardening, I’d do anything to keep it alive and healthy.

I’ve loved Magnolia trees since I was a child: my Granny had one in her big, beautiful garden and me and my brother used to climb into it (it wasn’t very big so we’d sort of climb inside it rather than climb up it), hidden by the flowers, and play in our massive imaginary worlds. I’ve always had a fondness for them ever since. Then there was a huge one outside my therapist’s office and it always used to make me feel better when therapy felt overwhelming and just too hard. We have one in our garden now although it’s still a baby and has a way to go before it’s a ‘real’ tree.

“Flowers rewrite soil, water, and sunshine into petal’d poetry.” – Terri Guillemets


5. SITTING IN THE SUN ON THE DECK

I don’t often sit out on the deck – I’m not very good at just relaxing and not doing anything – but when I do, I love the feeling of the breeze in my hair and the sun on my skin. The word kind of makes me cringe but it feels so nourishing. I have to be a bit careful though: for some reason, my skin seems only able to take a certain amount of direct sunlight before reacting, getting red and overheated (so far no one has figured out what causes it). But in small doses, I love it and I can almost feel an inner meter going up, like a health meter in a video game.

“In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect.” – Alice Walker


6. SWIMMING

While I’m not swimming in a ‘natural environment’ (especially with the pandemic, the water has enough chemicals in it to make your eyes burn), water itself is a natural environment so I’m going to include it anyway. Due to my chronic pain, swimming is currently the only exercise I can do – at the very least until my joints, strength, and stamina are better – and fortunately, I love swimming. As you can probably tell from the photos below. It’s always such a relief to get in the water and be essentially weightless, and I love being able to exercise and work hard without pain (even though I have been known to overdo it and suffer the consequences the next day). The whole experience makes me so joyously happy.

“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” – Henry David Thoreau


7. SUNRISES / SUNSETS

I’ve always loved sunrises and sunsets. I don’t think there’s an incarnation of the sky I don’t find beautiful but, being a person that feels so emotionally connected to colours (especially the ones we see in the sky), sunrise and sunset are always particularly special to me. And the more striking they are, the more I love them. Like this one below: it was an ordinary day made extraordinary by the sunset. The really stunning ones always feel like a rare gift. Photos never really do them justice but I often find myself coming back to this photo because I remember just how beautiful it was and how it completely took my breath away.

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“Clouds blaze brilliant colours in a sky on fire.” – Terri Guillemets


8. STARS / THE NIGHT SKY

I’ve been going out to watch meteor showers (especially the Perseid meteor shower in August) for the last several years and I love it. I love staring up, barely breathing as you wait for a meteor. Then suddenly one will streak across the sky; sometimes they’re so light that they’re like a white pencil barely touching black paper and sometimes they’re so bright, like a knife cutting through the roof of the tent and giving you a split second glimpse of blinding sun. I’ve only seen a few of those but they’re breath taking every single time. The whole experience is just magical. And just looking at the sky, I love how the longer you look at the stars, the more you see, like you’re seeing further and further into space. It’s amazing (although a little scary if you think about it too hard).

“The stars are the street lights of eternity.” – Unknown


9. NATURE DOCUMENTARIES

I know it’s not exactly ‘engaging in nature’ but I think it’s still staying connected to nature, just in an indirect way. It’s not like any of us can just jump on a flight and see these animals in real life on a whim so a documentary is the next best thing. Me and my brother used to watch all of the David Attenborough documentaries with my grandparents when we were little so they’re a huge part of my childhood; they’re probably a big part of why I’ve always loved animals so much. I especially loved the ones with big cats, although I never liked the parts where they killed other animals (I know it’s essential for their survival but I still don’t like watching it happen).

“Nature is new every morning, but its cycles are ancient, independent of all our anxieties, oblivious to our plans.” – Barbara Cawthorne Crafton


10. ICELAND

I’m not sure that this is something that really fits on this list because it’s not like a place you can just visit whenever you feel like it but if we’re talking about nature and the power of nature, then I have to mention my trip to Iceland. Seeing the waterfalls, the mountains, the glaciers, the Northern Lights… I’ve never felt as connected to nature as I did there. Even the air felt different as I breathed in and out. It was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever visited and I really hope that one day I’ll get to go back, one day when I’m stronger and fitter and can manage the more difficult walks and therefore see even more.

“Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you.” – Frank Lloyd Wright


So here are ten of my most important nature-related things. If you made a list, what would go on yours?

The Mental Health Foundation has a lot of resources on their website for this week but they’re also issuing a challenge…

“During Mental Health Awareness Week, we are asking you to do three things: 

  • Experience nature: Take time to recognise and grow your connection with nature during the week. Take a moment to notice and celebrate nature in your daily life. You might be surprised by what you notice!
  • Share nature: Take a photo, video or sound recording and share the connections you’ve made during the week, to inspire others. Join the discussion on how you’re connecting with nature by using the hashtags #ConnectWithNature #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
  • Talk about nature: Use our tips, school packs, research and policy guides to discuss in your family, school, workplace and community how you can help encourage people to find new ways to connect with nature in your local environment.”

EDIT: This post is in response to The Mental Health Foundation’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme of ‘nature,’ which is important when it comes to managing your general mental health, but I do think it’s important that we all acknowledge and are aware that managing your mental health is not the same as living and coping with a mental illness. I think, too often, they’re lumped together as the same thing when they’re very different. Maybe we need a different week or separate days for different conditions because whilst connected, managing your mental health and managing a mental illness are not the same and can require vastly different approaches.

World Mental Health Day 2020 – Mental Health For All

One of the biggest days on the Mental Health calendar.

The theme this year is ‘Mental Health for All’ and this is what the World Federation for Mental Health said about that choice…


Psychosocial support and mental health national plans need to address the mental health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on citizens.

It is therefore of great significance and importance that the theme for World Mental Health Day 2020 will be:

Mental Health for All
Greater Investment – Greater Access

Mental health is a human right – it’s time that mental health is available for all. Quality, accessible primary health care is the foundation for universal health coverage and is urgently required as the world grapples with the current health emergency.

We therefore need to make mental health a reality for all – for everyone, everywhere.


It’s not a bad message in principal. Everyone deserves to have access to good mental health care, especially when going through the trauma of a pandemic. That would be incredible. But how governments will cope with all of the pandemic related cases when they can’t even handle the current number, I have no idea. In the UK, for example, they’d have to actively stop defunding the NHS and start directing funds back to it and specifically to their mental health services. And the system itself would need a drastic overhaul: we need a system of professionals that can accurately identify symptoms, prescribe medication, treatment, or a therapist if necessary, provide resources such as suggested reading and contacts for local support groups, and schedule regular follow ups. Even the language around mental health is long overdue an update. That’s a massive undertaking but if they can do it, then they have my full support.

But back to World Mental Health Day. This slogan makes me so angry that I almost couldn’t write anything today. Mental healthcare for all, right? We have to have a global pandemic that affects the mental health of the entire world for mental health to truly rise up the list of priorities? So… what? All of us struggling with mental health problems before the pandemic weren’t worth the effort? That’s what the message sounds like to me.

I was diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses at eighteen and Autism Spectrum Disorder at twenty, although I was obviously struggling long before we could put a name on what was happening. And that’s the simple version. The long version involves hundreds of hours of research and phone calls and appointments, tears and screaming and self harming, invalidated over and over and over again. Since receiving my diagnoses and getting support in various forms, when my physical and mental health have allowed me to, I’ve done everything in my power to raise awareness and support for those of us struggling with our mental health. I’ve donated money, taken part in fundraisers, volunteered for research projects, supported charities, attended conferences, and so on. I’ve created art about my experiences and dedicated the proceeds to charity.

I did not and do not expect to change the world alone with these actions but think about every single person who has been doing the same and more up until this point. The message being circulated today on World Mental Health Day with this slogan seems to invalidate all of that. To me, it feels like all of these organisations promoting this phrase are saying that we weren’t important enough before to dedicate serious help or resources to; that our mental health problems weren’t caused by a massive global trauma and therefore they aren’t as important; that there weren’t enough of us to make the effort worth it so they weren’t going to bother; “oh, but now look at how many people need help, that makes it worth doing.”

These organisations do a lot of great work and I’ve always had great respect for them but right now… this feels like a betrayal and a hard one to swallow. Maybe I’m the only one who feels like this, maybe I’m not, but this is my blog and my blog is where I come to talk about how I feel. So there you go.

More voices telling me that my experience isn’t important or valid doesn’t change anything though. I’ll keep working, I’ll keep writing, I’ll keep helping in whatever way I can. Because this is bigger than all of the politics and bullshit that constantly get in the way of improving the lives of people who suffer from mental illness. I truly wish I had something more positive to say, on today of all days, but I don’t. I’m angry. And I’m sad. And I’m exhausted. Never have I felt so let down by the community that is supposed to support me and after all I’ve experienced, that’s really saying something.