In an ideal world, what would mental healthcare look like? Obviously going to the doctor to talk about mental illness would be as simple and routine as making an appointment for a sprained ankle or a migraine. Nobody would have to go to A&E in a crisis, there’d be plenty of room in psychiatric wards, and staff working in mental health would be given the resources they need to actually do their jobs.
Unfortunately, though, we currently live in a world that resembles a dumpster that’s not only on fire but also full of dystopian novels. Going to the doctor can be a painful and ultimately fruitless process, and inpatient wards are understaffed, overstretched and so full that anybody needing a bed is either turned away or sent hundreds of miles away from home.
This is largely because of widespread budget cuts to the NHS – wards are being closed, therapy services oversubscribed, and staff trying their best to stem the slow and steady flow of untreated patients.
In short: it’s miserable. But is there anything we, individually, can do to cope in this kind of crisis?
Obviously self care can’t replace professional help – if you’re psychotic, tidying your room or drinking more water is not going to help. But we can make a concerted effort to look after our own mental health, and to look out for the people we care about. Do chores for your friends when they’re depressed, collect their prescriptions, cook them dinner. Ask them what they need, practically, and deliver those things.
It might feel like putting a band-aid on an amputated limb, but it can make a small difference. And in a world where mental health services are consistently failing the people who need them the most, taking the time to look after your own mental health can be a radical political act.
Emily Reynolds is a freelance writer who specialises in mental health, tech and science. She regularly writes for the Guardian, New Yorker magazine, Vice and more. Her first book, A Beginner’s Guide To Losing Your Mind, is out now with Hodder & Stoughton.
Find Emily on Twitter: @rey_z