Mental health can affect anyone, regardless of what they earn. That’s not what this post is about. Instead, I’ve come to the realisation that the way we treat mental illness is largely exclusive and the fact that this has only occurred to me now is just proof of how privilege dictates who is helped and who isn’t.
Without going into all of the details, I have been dealing with mental health issues of varying kinds for about seven years. I have spent time on wards, in appointments and recovering at home. And I have noticed more and more that I have been extremely fortunate in the way I’ve been able to deal with my mental illness. Although medical and professional help are available on the NHS, what isn’t accounted for is how valuable time and space are when it comes to learning to cope with whatever problem you are facing.
When things got really difficult for me, both school and university felt like they were too much. I’ve always regarded academia as extremely important to me, so it’s even more disheartening when other parts of my life get in the way of my achievements. Last year I had to leave my first year of university early, missing lectures and having to postpone my exams, but I still got a high 2:1. My tutors and lecturers send me extra material to catch up when I can’t make my seminars and just checking up on me. Not everyone goes to schools, colleges or universities that are so accommodating for people with the same kinds of problems.
I don’t have a part-time job during term-time so I don’t have to worry about extra commitments aside from studying. Some students have to work to pay for the degree, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to afford to go to university in the first place. In fact, a few people I did my A-Levels with didn’t even have that option but had to go straight into a full-time job. Over the past few years, I would not have been able to balance studying, working and recovery, so I am incredibly lucky to be able to afford not to have a job all year round so I can take the time to go to appointments and so on.
Mental health care isn’t as easy as popping a few painkillers and cracking on. There isn’t a magic cure or a foolproof treatment. It’s a lengthy process of trying to find a way to cope, to be able to function on a day-to-day basis. It takes hours and hours of talking and thinking and trying whatever you can in appointments. It takes days of attempting to work through even the smallest tasks when it just gets too much. It’s so time-consuming and, with no guaranteed outcome, who can afford to spend that much of their life dealing with mental health?
It’s a financial drain. If you can afford not to have to work, or to only work part-time, you are able to spend time trying to deal with it.
Some of my appointments take place outside of the city. Not everyone is able to take the time out of their day to get there and back. Not everyone can afford to pay for taxis or public transport every time they need to be seen by a professional. On top of that, prescriptions in the UK for anti-depressants often have to be paid for. Recovery is for those with time, and time is not cheap. How many people are suffering in silence because their mental health is a luxury they can’t afford?
Obviously I am only speaking from my perspective and everyone’s experiences will be different, but if I hadn’t had the opportunity to take days out to focus on my recovery, I think I would be in a much worse state than I am now. I’ve been blind to my privilege until a recent change in personal circumstances (which I won’t go into), and my eyes have been opened to just how different my life could be right now if I hadn’t had the support I’ve been lucky enough to have access to.
How is it fair that mental health is something you have to buy? Like its an indulgence rather than a basic necessity? If you broke your leg, no one would ask you if you really need to get a cast, or if you can really afford to go to A&E.
I don’t know how we fix this. Undoubtedly it’s not a simple solution as the issue itself is so complex, but surely we cannot prioritise one mind over another. Money should not determine whether someone can afford to be healthy, especially in a country that is so proud of its National Health Service.
What has your experience with mental health services been like? Are they easy to access or do you feel they are financially exclusive?