Need help? Yes, but not like that.


I must admit I first saw reference to this in the Metro, run under some nauseating yet attention grabbing headline. I saw it re-run in the Expressly Fail which never instills confidence that the article is what it might first seem. But then I saw a link to this video on the BBC website.

In it, Gail Porter talks to Radio 5 Live’s Phil Williams about being sectioned under the Mental Health Act.  It is a compelling listen. Not only does Porter talk about the shock and anger of the experience (her partner signing the forms to section her, the drugs and the two Jesus on her ward), she also highlights the difficulties for any one struggling with fragile mental health to express their needs and the failure of the health service to offer help in the way that it is needed by the recipient.  Let me pick up two of her points as something I can closely relate to.

Part of Porter’s sectioning related to a text she sent that she was feeling suicidal. To those who have not felt this way this evokes strong emotions: the feeling of wanting to end it all is equated with an executable plan and will to do so.  The law in this case certainly saw it this way and as such there is an urge to “protect” that person from the harm they are intending to do to themselves. But in all walks of life there are different degrees of feeling and intention.  As was explained to me, the feeling that you want to kill yourself is not the same as making plans to do so. What seems a subtle distinction on the outside is a huge leap for the person in that position.  Explaining this can be a huge relief, it was for me.

Yet explaining this is all part of offering appropriate help, support and care. As Porter also highlights, her partner was signing the forms out of love yet the response of the system seems far from this. She was taken to a secure hospital, given drugs and queued up to see a doctor.  I have expressed my views on the approach of the health service before but again this case highlights the way in which mental health problems must reach crisis point for the sufferer before help is given. Porter’s words illustrate this better than me rehearsing my own experience again (click here, here and here to revisit them if you so wish). For Porter, as with so many others, asking for help is difficult and is expressed in what the wider world sees as a worrying and inappropriate manner. And when the response is as harsh as this is it any wonder we hold it in through fear.

Of course, each individual has a different case and it would be inappropriate of me to suggest that we all suffer in the same way. But at the same time there are many shared stories of both the way in which talk about our problems is difficult and the failure of statutory authorities to provide effective help at an appropriate stage. As much as it is about individuals feeling less fearful of speaking out it is up to the health service to demonstrate that the help is there.

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