“Perhaps not the most flattering photo of me, but I’m sharing this awful picture and my story to help increase understanding of the impact of mental illness and to celebrate my recovery.”
“As I have worked in mental health services for 29 years, one would think I would be immune to mental illness.”
In a LinkedIn post that has been shared more than 5,000 times, Mandy Stevens shared a photo of herself, red-eyed with matted hair, in the midst of a depressive episode that resulted in her being hospitalised. She wrote the post on the day she was discharged from a 12 week stay on the inpatient ward at the City and Hackney Centre for Mental Health in London.
One thing that struck many people who read Stevens’ post on the online professional network was her unique vantage point – she has been both an employee and patient of the UK’s National Health Service mental health programme.
Stevens began her career in the NHS as a mental health nurse. After 15 years she became a hospital manager, and then a director.
Although she has suffered episodes of “mild to moderate” depression, she managed it through counselling and very few of her family and friends knew about it.
“There is a huge amount of stigma around mental illness,” Stevens told BBC Trending, “and for the past 29 years I have worked in Mental Health Services and seen the negative effect this stigma has on people who use our services. From personal embarrassment, family embarrassment, not accepting diagnoses or treatment, not wanting to attend mental health community services in case they are recognised. There is also stigma amongst family, friends and colleagues, including whispered rumours and avoidance.”
Then in November, things changed, and her depression became serious enough to warrant hospitalisation.
“When I was very, very depressed, anxious and suicidal I was so ill I was almost monosyllabic, I could hardy walk properly, I couldn’t shower or dress properly. Eating and all the things that we take for granted were a huge struggle. I spent most of every day in bed, crying and wanting to be dead. I was absolutely terrible. So frightening and awful.”
“The absolutely wonderful nurses on Gardner ward at City & Hackney Centre for Mental Health were amazing,” Stevens says.
“They would come and see me very regularly throughout the day, spend time with me, encourage and support me, listen to me crying and talking and throwing up a huge amount of emotion. The staff nurses and the healthcare assistants were wonderful, accessible and compassionate 24/7. I am so proud of my profession.”
Whilst in hospital and after she was over the worst Stevens says she felt a bit like an “undercover cop” as she observed how the ward was run.
“Without exception the staff treated all of the patients with dignity and respect.”
When asked what she thinks of the state of the NHS right now, Stevens says, “Very difficult for me to answer this question now… I can only talk about my particular experience as a patient in an ‘Outstanding Trust’ – which has been a great experience.”
“I am, of course, aware that not everyone is as lucky as me to receive this type of care. Unfortunately, mental health services are always seen as the ‘Cinderella services’ with lower levels of funding and cuts.”
Analysis by the King’s Fund think tank says 40% of the 58 mental health trusts in the UK saw budgets cut in 2015-16. It found six of them had seen budgets cut three years in a row. An NHS spokeswoman told the BBC that mental health services were “wider” than trusts, and care was funded in other ways.
Steven adds that help is there.
“There is a huge range of accessible services across the country. Your GP is usually the best place to start as they can signpost you to local services and, if necessary, they can refer you to formal mental health services, but there are also a wide variety of other services around run by volunteers,” she says.
“My first message is to reach out to people. Speak to your close family and friends about your mental health, and start opening conversations about it. Don’t say ‘I’m okay’ when you’re not okay”
If you or someone you know are suffering from depression or suicidal thoughts, Samaritans offer confidential support, 24/7, throughout the UK and Ireland. To get in touch, call 116 123 or email them firstname.lastname@example.org.
The charity Mind also offer an online guide to coping with depression particularly for LGBTQ identifiers including how to cope with topics such as discrimination, bullying and homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.