The Malta Independent 24 October 2020, Saturday

‘World Mental Health day’ – how shallow can we go!

Andrew Azzopardi Wednesday, 14 October 2020, 07:42 Last update: about 9 days ago

I must admit that I’m not too keen on a ‘day’ dedicated to a ‘cause’ – it simply belittles the complexities and the exigence. In my view, these puerile campaigns are counter-productive, yet here we are talking about ‘World Mental Health Day’ practically putting it on the same level as ‘National Doughnut Day’ or ‘World Peanut Butter Day’!   What makes me livid is that we assume that dedicating a day in a year to mental health awareness absolves us of our silence and aloofness. 

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Some photo shoots, the altering of our Facebook profile pic with a snazzy green logo mean nothing, and there you are thinking that it’s all sorted out. 

Well sorry, it’s not!

·         It will be sorted out when there no longer is any discrimination and stigma that plagues the lives of people who have some mental health condition or other.

·         It will be sorted out when people with mental health challenges do not become the village square clowns.

·         It will be sorted out when family members do not have to secretly meet a psychiatrist because of the shame that is bestowed upon them.

·         It will be sorted out when the Commissioner for Mental Health is noticeable and has an active role in social policy, instead of being almost solely absorbed with an annual report which he has to submit to Parliament. 

·         It will be sorted out when silence does not encase this ‘issue’, making it feel as if it is the reign of Queen Dick.

·         It will be sorted out when we have all our efforts thrown into community mental health services.

·         It will be sorted out when we have millions of Euros dedicated to mental health research at the Univeristy.

·         It will be sorted out when we have a well-equipped forensic unit dedicated to the prisons.

·         It will be sorted out when Mt Carmel Hospital is only detectable in our history books and when the long-time coming hospital sees the light of day. 

·         It will be sorted out when we deal adequately with suicide, starting by talking about it rather than censoring it.

·         It will be sorted out when our economic model does not promote a culture of cutthroat competition that leaves so many mental health victims.

·         It will be sorted out when going to a psychiatrist doesn’t mean paying 70 odd Euros for a 10-minute consultation (after waiting forever). Oh, and no, using NHS is not an option as it takes forever!

·         It will be sorted out when we have a proper mental health policy and strategy translatable to ‘real life’.

·         It will be sorted out when our NGOs are given 5-year financial agreements so that they can plan their programs and not have to live on the benevolence of politicians.

·         It will be sorted out when people with mental health are no longer pathologized simply because they are different.

·         It will be sorted out when therapy is more than just tablets.

·         It will be sorted out when people with mental health issues are not the ones who populate our prisons and homeless shelters, who queue up for the ‘soup kitchen’ and who are living in dire loneliness.

·         It will be sorted out when people with mental health problems are not abused in relationships.

·         It will be sorted out when people with mental health challenges are not exploited in employment.

·         It will be sorted out when there are enough trained professionals in all areas of expertise.

·         It will be sorted out when ‘care plans’ (can’t tell you how patronizing this word rings in my ears) is about the individual’s aspirations rather than the professionals’ objectives.

·         It will be sorted out when institutionalization is a thing of the past.

·         It will be sorted out when there are enough support systems and flexibility in the place of work.

·         It will be sorted out when services are really designed around the needs of the person in need and not more focused on the rights of workers and their professional status.

·         It will be sorted out when politicians like Mario Galea who speak about their ailments are no longer an exception to the rule.

It will be sorted out when stories like the one below are no longer the order of the day, a true story of a 24-year-old person who writes about his life;

I feel that, for me, it’s too late as I can’t change what I've been through. However, as a young person I hope that my experience can help other young people in my position to avoid a broken system of false promises by increasing awareness through the sharing of my story.

I was raised in an environment of domestic violence and subsequently faced the consequences due to my father’s abuse. There was preferential treatment towards my siblings and as a result it felt as if I was the black sheep of the family.

My parents got divorced and after some years ended up in court… This resulted in bouts of anxiety and depression and visits to various psychiatrists to find an answer to the problems I went through.

After years of being a court witness at such a tender age, I began experiencing suicide ideation and consequently was entrusted into mental health institutions. The experience and therapy put me in a dark place rather than a place of healing. I had feelings of imprisonment within the ‘therapeutic’ system that labelled me as a criminal in the making just like my father’s labelling which hindered me from developing a positive identity. The period was marred by prescribed medications which caused numerous side effects, reducing my potential as a person to feel valued, human and whole.

I was later on perceived as a burden by my mother and eventually kicked out of home.  I ended up on the streets. During this period, I would receive threats from my mother which included false police reports. Despite trying to get my life in order, I spent time living on a bench in the streets. I was losing hope.

… people took advantage of my situation and as a result I was exploited due to my vulnerability, as I had no support from anyone.  I had to succumb to measly wages and long hours of work with broken promises from those who said they would help. I felt I was treated as a slave at work rather than a human being. This developed into patterns of insecurity: financially and emotionally and socially. My debts increased. I then faced a period at a homeless shelter and found a job to start paying my long-standing debts which accumulated over time. I faced persecution, false claims of taking drugs inadvertently increased my anger. However, I endured the behavior as I needed the job to pay my debts. Yet again, employers took advantage as they would refuse to draw up a contract for work. This continuous pattern of abuse only compounded my anxiety, frustration and depression. I felt once again that I was not being supported by the system and I found my back against the wall.

...

The current pandemic did not make my life or situation any easier and without employment I had no alternative but to move in with my abusive father. His lack of support and abuse rekindled anger and anxiety due to various threats that I would be beaten up by outsiders. Though I took the step to

live with my father, as I was afraid to live on the road, I felt living on the streets was better than living with my abusive father. However, again back on the streets I developed health issues which also resulted in weight loss and lethargy. I felt helpless and hopeless, confused with no direction in life.

In the mean time I tried several attempts to apply for the government unemployment benefit however I was told by the department that I was not eligible because I did not have 50 stamps. The lack of financial support from the government was a clear indication that the system does not work, at least for me. Social and Care workers promised support however such promises were unproductive since I would only receive one phone call a month or be passed on to a new social worker and I would have to end up going over my life history over and over again. This situation served only to to remind me of my past which constantly haunted me.

I was put in contact with an organization which was meant to increase social interaction for vulnerable young people. I felt that maybe this time I would find support.  Initially I received phone calls, updates and a couple of meetings which raised my hopes. I was let down soon after once again.

….

I felt exploited once again, as the income was measly whilst the hours were long. This affected my wellbeing and I suffered anxiety and frustration once again as I also faced abuse from the staff. However, I endured the situation until I found another job that would give better conditions of work and pay, yet the Covid-19 crises did not help and as a result other newly appointed staff and myself were to leave because work was limited.

Though I was very happy to have better accommodation, the subsidy that was promised was denied from the housing authorities, despite the first rent being paid to by the organization that assured me that I would receive support. I found myself yet again without a job and a roof over my head

Yet again I found myself unsupported as endless phone calls for help which were promised never came through. I found myself yet again on the streets with no support from those who assured me they would be there for me. From my personal experience I have learned that the system is failing badly and causing more damage to young people. The system has broken me as various government entities were unable to help, even though the impression given ‘out there’ was different. This shows how disconnected the system is from young people.

The experience I have endured has stopped me from integrating in society.  I find myself in a worse position than I was previously in with no job security, my basic needs not being met, debts I cannot pay back, with no opportunity to study and no roof over my head - and with scarce hope for my future.

I believe that I’ve been in a very dark place, worse than hell itself and I am still going through it, without any help from anyone and with little support to rely on…

 

 

 

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