It is no secret that the demand for NHS mental health services far outweighs their capacity to supply help and support; resulting in long waiting lists or rejection from services due to their need to prioritise the most pressing cases. I myself, since the turn of the year, have been rejected from my local eating disorder service and online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), offered no help from the community mental health team (besides being referred for an autism assessment which is still ongoing) and am still on the waiting list for face-to-face CBT. I know that I am not alone in this, and appreciate that not everyone is in the position to seek out a private therapist. There are other ways of accessing information and support for those unable to afford private therapy or those who are, like myself, on a long waiting list. Here I’m sharing a number of resources I have drawn upon within the last 8 months in the hopes that they will help some of you reading this bridge the gap between requesting and receiving the support you need.
The first ‘resource’ I would like to explore is social media. I have found a number of Instagram accounts run by professionals such as psychotherapists (like @millennial.therapist, @themindgeek, @emmybrunnerofficial and @thetalkingtherapist), psychologists (like @the.holistic.psychologist), nutritionists (like @mysignaturenutrition, @kayshathomas and @isarobinson_nutrition) or recovery clinics (like @recoverclinic and @eatingdisordertherapyla) that share helpful advice and information but also share posts that make me feel less alone and better help me understand the thoughts and feelings I experience. For example, from reading posts from a number of different accounts (like @bethdrawsthings, @selfcareisapriority, @miss_mental0, @what.is.mental.illness, @letstalk.mentalhealth, @beatingeatingdisorders, @mentalhealth.notes, @amalielee, @mellow.doodles and @dlcanxiety) and authors (like @hannahdblum, @glennondoyle and @brenebrown) I have learnt more about my social anxiety, and the behaviours that can be attributed to this, and the different ways in which my depression manifests itself. There are also social media accounts run by mental health charities (like @giveusashoutinsta and @samaritanscharity) that provide further advice and support, and in my experience they also respond to comments or messages.
Books and websites are another resource that I have used to try and better understand my illnesses, but there are so many books out there that I didn’t know how to choose the ones best suited to my particular needs. This is what led me to reach out to an eating disorder charity via Twitter; I hoped they might know of particular books or articles that would be relevant to the difficulties I described to them (to help me transition out of anorexic eating behaviours to ‘normalised’ / intuitive eating for the first time in a number of years.). The representative I spoke with was extremely helpful in this regard and could immediately recommend me a book (Overcoming Binge Eating [second edition] by Dr Christopher G Fairburn) that would help me to help myself. I would therefore highly recommend getting in touch with the Recover Clinic, checking out their reading list page, or reaching out to relevant charities to see if they can suggest reading materials or narrow down your selection of possibilities.
It may also be the case that some of these charities run peer support groups, another fantastic resource that I have benefitted from. I have engaged with some of the online support groups offered by BEAT, and also found that a charity providing support for those struggling with self-harm (Battle Scars) were running online zoom meetings, due to the restrictions in place as a result of the pandemic, that I was able to join. For me, there is a noticeable difference in how I feel talking about my problems with those who have suffered something similar to talking with those who have no experience of the matter, as well as a difference in the manner of the response which I receive in return. I strongly believe those who have been through similar pain and hardship are much better placed to empathise and sympathise with my thoughts and feelings, and so being able to talk to like-minded people who grasp exactly how I might have felt at a particular time or in a particular situation enables me to feel heard and better understood.
My desire to better understand my mental health led me to search for short online courses that did not include any assignments or examinations associated with them. Futurelearn is a course provider which I have used previously and when I explored the courses available I found there was a wealth of provision covering different mental health issues being offered. All of the courses are free and there are no formal questions to complete. The material is extremely informative and very accessible and can be worked through at the learners own pace and discretion. The courses I have worked through (such as Understanding anxiety, depression and CBT) have really helped me to better understand my anxiety and depression and have also provided ways and means of addressing certain aspects of these illnesses. Knowledge is power, and by knowing more about how I think and how I respond to these thoughts I am becoming more adept at spotting these patterns and confronting them. A number of the courses have also included a comprehensive reading list of books, articles and websites to enable participants to explore and expand their knowledge in relation to their specific needs.
When I first embarked on my recovery journey, I was completely unaware of how to help myself. Thankfully, I had already been meeting with a colleague at work who, in her role of pastoral leader, had been supporting me through the difficult weeks that preceded accepting help. She made the time to talk to me on a regular basis and I was able to offload some of my pain and discuss possible ways of moving forwards and why this was so important. I never felt judged or belittled, just seen, heard and understood. It’s ironic because I didn’t want her to be informed of my difficulties, but it turned out that it was the best thing that could have happened for me. Not everyone will be able to support you in this way, but there will be someone, or multiple people, who will make you feel comfortable speaking out. This is the most powerful and valuable ‘resource’ at your disposal, in my opinion, because whilst it is not easy opening up to others, sharing thoughts and feelings can, in my experience, help them to feel less overwhelming and more manageable, and, an external party can bring rationality and calmness to the situation. They can be your sounding board, help make sense of negative thoughts and suggest ways and means of making steps forward in a positive direction. The person does not have to be trained in mental health to be a good ‘resource’; if a person can actively listen to your problems, support you, encourage you and help you to feel safe then they are a good person to speak with.
Whilst none of these options are as impactful as having a therapist, they are fantastic resources to explore in the absence of therapy or whilst awaiting therapy to begin. For me, being better able to understand myself and my struggles is allowing me to be kinder and more compassionate towards myself on bad days and in darker times, and this represents considerable progress. I am also becoming more confident at speaking to other people about my emotions, my needs and my story, and I can engage more actively within the peer support groups and therapy as a result. Ultimately, improving my mental health lies with me, and whilst I know I need help achieving this, progress will only happen if I truly want it to and am willing to work through the pain that comes with recovery. The resources I have spoken about have helped me to recognise the work that lies ahead of me, but also how determined I am to be free of the cruel workings of my mind. I hope that some of you reading this find these resources to be just as beneficial, and I wish you all the best in your own recovery.
Written by Una Clifford
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