Why I Am Volunteering For Mind

Have you ever been in crisis? Where would you turn?

My natural answer would be family and friends. I think most people would. It’s not always that easy for some people though and the help you need maybe beyond them.

I remember the day I needed help. It was a few days after my birthday and I had felt the pressure building and building in me to the point I was about to go. I’d always known the difference between just having a bad mood day and when the depression was here by my side but today was different. I had always been a very calm person, logical thinker & someone who doesn’t panic but on this day I felt like I was losing control of my life. Family, work, friends the lot!

I rang my girlfriend and what followed was a surprise to me and everyone who knew me. Not that she was there for me but an hour of upset and 20 years of bottled up emotion and admission of depression pouring out of me. I found myself talking about things I’d not even thought about for 10 – 15 years. Soon my Mum arrived and together they spent 5 or 6 hours ringing or re-ringing “crisis lines”, Doctors and the Hospital. I’d been pacing the house for 5 hours unable to stop. If I did sit down I found I couldn’t keep my leg still, I’d almost be kneeing myself in the face. Later on I had been punching myself in the face and head butting the wall which was obviously very upsetting for my family to see.

I’m sure there are good reasons behind why they were met with the brick wall from the NHS. They probably can’t come out to every person having these sort of problems but for my girlfriend and family they were looking at someone clearly in breakdown mode, a guy who’d never ever been like this and alongside that were trying to cope with news their partner/son/brother had been suffering depression. It was completely out of character and I’m sure they were scared! The thing is if you have a physical injury you know how to treat the situation by looking at it. If the problem is in someone’s head you can’t judge what to do. It was a new situation for everyone there.

The response they got though was from the GP, Hospital and Crisis Teams…. “Don’t bring him here”

Like I say there was probably good reason for it but it’s not, and never has been, explained. I assume it is down to cuts and maybe a medical/procedure. It would have been nice for the others to have been told why. I love the NHS and it has been great in every aspect of my life previously so I’m not having a go at them promise!

I look back now and I think about what must have been going through my girlfriend’s mind at that time. On the one hand she has her best friend and boyfriend in crisis, and on the other, everywhere you’d turn to saying come and see us when he’s calmed down. In the end I was taken to the Hospital and A&E to force the issue. The mental health team had gone home at 6pm that day so being 5 past 6 I had 3 hours wait to see someone from another hospital. My family were at their wits end and I wasn’t going to calm down. It took several trips and GP appointments and eventually months of counselling to get me the help I needed but as things settled it really made me think.

What would have happened had my girlfriend not been there or if she’d not coped and ran a mile? What if you haven’t got family or friends to turn to? I know from my own experience you won’t do it off your own back. You don’t have the self-worth, energy or thought process to do it.

After almost forcing the issue with our local NHS & GP I was referred to IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Treatment). It’s a great organisation I’m sure but once you self-refer, or GP refers you, it’s 2 weeks before you get a one hour assessment over the phone. I was at first convinced over the phone I wasn’t going to get treatment as I wasn’t in crisis anymore. They said my points score was too low. True to a point but if this is the first port of call when someone is in crisis they may well have calmed down within the two weeks. Not seeing someone at their worst isn’t going to make you think they need treatment. The scoring is all based on what you are like there and then, that day, not how you were. It struck me that there is no help unless you are in deep crisis. Those that have problems but come and go will have to sort themselves out. They did offer me counselling after telling me on the phone I had no hope of getting it, which I did, but eventually finished it early. My counsellor was great and they do fantastic work but I don’t think it was the right course of action for me personally.

As the dust settled it made me think how I could help. I’d looked at befriending services or buddy schemes years ago but, having the kids, never got round to it. My friends and family have always thought I’m a very compassionate kind of guy and say I’m a great listener, a go to guy, if you needed a shoulder to cry on. I’m also a fairly non-judgemental person. I am judgmental, we all are, but I am always keen to hear the other side of the story. What caused them to be like this, do what they did or started the chain of events. I hate seeing people just make a snap judgement and then stick to their opinion without scratching the surface of the story a little. There was a girl who joined our school in my teens. Scruffy, quiet as a mouse and to be fair not one for academic study. Not me personally but everyone in our year made her life hell. She was judged immediately just on her looks and shyness, I know kids are cruel but this was next level. Finding out what I did about her in my early 20s left me cold. If people had known the story they’d never have been anything but kind I’m sure. It’s stuck with me a long time and helped shape the way I think. Try as best you can to not judge a book by its cover!

So I started to research these sorts of schemes again. I’d never been offered Mind as a source of help when I was having my problems and the more I read about them the more I liked. There were several areas of volunteering I would be interested in so I gave them a call and began the process.

6 months on, I’ve finished the training and I’m about to start working for the befriending service and being assigned a service user. The training has been excellent so far and gives a real insight into a world I’d never looked into before. The myths and perception of certain mental health issues has been a real eye opener. The way certain illnesses are portrayed in the media, film and TV have only served to shape a nation’s perception for the worse! They held up cards on several different illnesses and I could spot several of my friends in each! Friends that read this though don’t be worried I’m not going to become the bore who reels out the “Well… in fact the real illness…..blah blah blah”. Am I nervous? Of course but I’m also excited about being part of a great organisation and maybe being to help someone who will probably been in a worse position than I ever was. People keep telling me volunteering is an incredibly selfless gesture but I don’t see it as that. I’m also doing it for me as well. It’ll hopefully help me in my journey to obtaining some self-worth which I’ve always lacked. I’m sure it’ll be emotional, hard work & difficult, I’m under no illusion on that score, but I’m also sure that it’ll be equally rewarding as well. It’s only 2 hours a week out of my time, I’m sure if we all looked we could find that time. Not to say it’s what everyone should do but its 2 hours less I’ll spend browsing the web probably.

Paul Stokes

Mind are a UK Based MH Charity