After my exams had finished in June I vowed to myself that I would seek help in the summer holidays because I felt like I was going insane. For the past 2 years I’ve felt stressed all the time about everything. My depressive moods were starting to affect my daily life: I couldn’t sleep, I lost my appetite and I was too scared to talk to people. My mind was the noisiest place I knew and it became my biggest enemy.
I filled in a self referral form online and they said they’d get back to me soon. Fast forward a few weeks, I’m in the heat of the Italian countryside at my uncle’s house with my family when I get a call. I discreetly go to the balcony to take it and I’m told that I’m not eligible for therapy because I’m a year too young and in full time education. I felt shocked and appalled at how difficult it is to get help for for mental health problems in comparison to physical ones. Surely as a “minor” I’m just as vulnerable, if not more, than anyone else over 18? Suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescents and young adults from age 15-24.  Yet mental health services fail to make themselves readily available to prevent many unfortunate cases ranging from suicides to the intensification of serious mental disorders.
The next logical step was to go directly to my GP but it took me until mid September to actually book an appointment because I feared that my doctor wouldn’t take me seriously. The thought of going to one to talk about my feelings was stomach churning. What was worse is that I had to request confidentiality because I was going behind my parents’ backs as my entire problem is deeply rooted childhood abuse.
I was given a priority appointment so I was the first patient to be seen as soon as as my doctor arrived. When I walked into his room, I noticed that he was new and quite young so he had presumably just graduated from medical school. He cheerfully told me that it was his first day and as small talk goes, he asked me “how are you?” before I even managed to sit down. At this point my heart sank because:
1) I was there because I was not fine at all but this question invited the answer “fine”, which is what I hesitantly replied.
2) I was probably his first ever real patient in his working life and I felt extremely guilty that I was just about to ruin his entire day by being, quite literally, a depressing patient.
The way in which I explained everything to him is a blur in my mind. I remember just spilling my life out and being on the verge of tears because in that moment it dawned on me what a torturous and isolated life I’ve lived at the hands of my own father. So much so that it had come to the point where I was expecting a stranger male with a medical degree to understand me and deliver in the short space of 10 mins. I could tell that he felt awkward as he listened at the beginning but I saw that his eyes started to water when I finished.
He cleared his throat and proceeded to tell me that being from the same background, he’s familiar with the abusive nature of certain people in our culture and that he empathises greatly, as doctors tend to. But that was the extent of his service. He then pulled out a sticky note and wrote down two numbers: one for social services and the other for “child and family” therapy. There was no way on earth that I was calling either of those numbers but that was all he could do. He didn’t even directly refer me to a therapist. I walked out with a sticky note.
The outcome isn’t a result of my doctor’s incompetency though. It’s a reflection on the lack of transparency in mental health services on the NHS for minors. What’s concerning and ironic is that had I chosen to make a poor decision after my appointment, my doctor would’ve be entirely responsible for it.
A few weeks passed, I felt worse and I always carried that sticky note with me in my bag. One lunch I was out with a close friend who was well aware of my situation and after days of trying, she finally persuaded me to call the second number because therapy with parents is better than nothing. When I called, they said they’d need to consult me for an hour by asking me questions over the phone. I was free the next period so I managed to get a free room arranged for me so that I could take the call at school.
The questions were deep to say the least and they certainly gathered a thorough picture of my case. I felt hopeful. At the end of the call, the woman thanked me and said that they would get back to me in nine weeks because of the long waiting list. Nine weeks.
As I left the room, a member of staff asked me how it went and I told her about how long I had to wait. To my surprise, she told me about a counselor in the school who is qualified to carry out Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I didn’t even know we had a counselor.
I’m very lucky that this is the woman who I meet every Monday to receive CBT privately in the comfort of my own school.
However I’m aware that a lot of my fellow sufferers have been less successful in finding the right support and it upsets me that mental health is dealt with so poorly in the system when it’s such a pressing issue.
Let me know if you’d like to hear about my CBT experience.