In times when most of the news you hear about health care, disability, mental illness and so many other issues is bad news, what a pleasure it was to have some inspiring input on mental health care.

Last week I was fortunate enough to attend a conference held by the Liverpool Clinical Commissioning Group on Mental Health. Organisations as diverse as Liverpool City Council, FACT, The Liverpool Veterans Group and many more were represented at the conference – each with plenty of input to share. (I will list the available links I have at the end of this post.)

I was there as a result of some road testing sessions I took part in earlier this year – road testing online self-help packages for people with mental health issues. This was done as a joint venture by PSS and Genie in the Gutter in Liverpool.

My connection was with PSS (which stands for People Shaped Support) who have been so very helpful in my learning to cope with depression and dispelling most of my anxieties. I don’t believe you can ever recover 100% from these. There is always going to be some anxiety that you may relapse – with good reason: I felt as if I had been ‘cured’ towards the end of last year, then fell into another horrible slump for the first few months of this one. Even so, getting out of that slump has been faster and easier than before.

I am probably one of the world’s most infrequent bloggers, but those who have kept up with this, or read back over it, will have seen that I have been pretty open about my own personal issues with mental health, bereavement (and the ‘bereavement’ of looking after loved ones who become seriously and ultimately, fatally ill). Up until now, it has really been a story half-told, with those who know me being able to fill in the blanks. In the light of last week’s conference however, I feel optimistic enough to share those blanks. It will make these articles somewhat long, for which I sort of apologize. I will post it in sections, which should make it easier to read (hopefully) and also to write, as it is highly emotive and has to be tackled ‘a piece at a time’. However, I think that my story will highlight the changes that have occurred in the time since I was first diagnosed as ‘clinically depressed’.

First diagnosis

I think I first became aware of a problem in the aftermath of my wife, Jacquie suffering a major stroke.  After her death, it felt like I had lost her 3 times: First, while we were engaged still, she had a major stroke that almost took her life and certainly changed her. She had extensive Occupational Therapy (after 10 or so weeks in and out of consciousness).  Jacquie had been a vibrant, fun-loving, energetic woman – then suddenly that was curtailed. She still loved to laugh, but her activities were slowed down considerably. Two years later, she had preventative neuro-surgery. That was the second time losing her. As soon as she was recovered enough from the surgery, we got married, but her personality was changing dramatically. Much of the laughter and the enjoyment of life, of music, of books, and many other things we shared, waned after this. It is not too surprising as in all the anxiety of her neurological problems, nobody thought to check for other things like cancer – which eventually took her for the third time.

I was diagnosed with depression a few months after we were married. I was put on Dothiepin, and referred to a psychiatrist. Several months later, I got to meet this psychiatrist. His first words to me were “So, what happened?” – referring to the fact that my appointment had been for 9.30, and it was 12.30. They had ‘forgotten’ to call me in. After telling him that (already someone angry) you might think an apology was in order. It didn’t happen – instead after looking through my notes, he told me to “Pull yourself together.” Needless to say, I was gobsmacked – and never saw him again.

Thankfully, so much has changed since then. Enough for me to feel there is hope for sufferers – at least in Liverpool, where I live.

Also, of course so much has changed within me. I have ended my love affair with anger, and in throwing it out, it is directed at the right people and the right issues, rather than at myself. Internalized anger can – and did – cause a near total shutdown for way too long.

And as for the fears that ruled me – I thank whatever spirit I have, or that moves me, that I decided not to be scared of injury, death, consequences – rather be scared of dying without having lived.

I’ll end this part with a couple of interesting and useful links. Although these are mostly Liverpool-based, they are worth a look as many of the items available are online and/or national (indeed international in some cases).

Wellbeing Liverpool is an online directory for Mental Health and Wellbeing Services, Activities and Groups in LIverpool. This has loads of interesting and useful stuff, including online resources. Another self-help site that I found particularly good during the road-testing is E-Couch. There is a lot of reading on this one, so if you prefer video or bite sized information, it may not be for you, but personally I found it great. You need to register, but registration and use of the site is totally free.

The last group/site to mention today is Inclusion Matters. This organisation is dedicated to ‘talking therapies’ – a very useful part of this site is the ‘self help guides’ section (linked on the home page).  Published by the NHS, there are currently 25 self-help leaflets on a range of topics from Anger Management, Domestic Violence, Depression, Bereavement and more.

For local people in Liverpool, one piece of fantastic news is that Inclusion Matters have now started a self-referral system. I had to nag my doctor to get him to refer me to them, which meant a considerable wait. I don’t know how much different waiting times are now, but the fact you can refer yourself is great news indeed!