It's no secret that the chronically underfunded NHS is in the midst of a mental health crisis, with demand far outstripping supply. Vulnerable people in need are facing waits of up to four months for talking therapies, being forced to travel long distances for treatment or even turned away altogether, because of a lack of funding.
Mental health services still aren't receiving the money they need, despite ministers promising 'parity of esteem' between mental and physical health five years ago. So it's no wonder that a Twitter thread exploring the true extent of the crisis is gaining traction online, with people sharing their tales of receiving insufficient support for their mental health issues.
It all started on Tuesday when journalist Emily Reynolds shared her experience of trying to get urgent help at A&E for her mental health. After a six-hour wait, she said she left with nothing more than a printout entitled "Are you feeling the strain?" to show for it.
The tweet, which has garnered almost 2,000 retweets and more than 11,500 likes at the time of writing, kickstarted a tsunami of people sharing their own stories of receiving inadequate mental health support.
Fellow journalist Hannah Jane Parkinson, who has written powerfully of her own experiences with mental health for the Guardian, said she was once effectively turned away from a GP practice despite being suicidal.
I liked when I went into my GP practice as a last resort, crying hysterically, like "Please I need to see someone, I'm like, suicidal and might basically head to a train station now", and the receptionist said he would "pass the message on". Legend.— Hannah Jane Parkinson (@ladyhaja) August 7, 2018
Novelist and musician Benjamin G. Wilson recalled his dissatisfaction at being offered "art therapy" at a time when he was having suicidal thoughts.
A full two years between me saying 'I don't know if I'm going to kill myself' and them offering me group finger painting as a remedy.— Benjamin G. Wilson (@BenWritesFilth) August 7, 2018
Then I moved house and no one's bothered to check in since.
'Art therapy', then they showed me the poster paints.— Benjamin G. Wilson (@BenWritesFilth) August 7, 2018
I was like 'I am a knitwear designer and author, all I fucking do is art, and it's not helping.'
They said 'It might help you get in touch with your feelings'.
Me, weeping: Do I seem to need more contact with them?
It was the interview where I told them 'maybe a lot of the problem is that I've been at imminent risk of homelessness for most of my adult life, and I can't always afford food'.— Benjamin G. Wilson (@BenWritesFilth) August 7, 2018
That, it turns out, was 'catastrophising'. I got a CBT print out with clip art cats. I'm cured now.
One young woman recalled seeking help for an eating disorder at A&E and being told to "join the gym", "think positively" and "try not to kill [herself]". Some said they were advised to get a pet to help them deal with their mental health issues; one woman recalled being told to get a goldfish after her second suicide attempt (because she was allergic to fur).
Others recalled being "prescribed" works of literature. One woman said she was recommended the Edward Albee play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf'? while Reynolds herself revealed she was recommended Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, which chronicles his experiences at Auschwitz during World War II.
Many people reported being told by professionals that they didn't "look like" they had mental health issues. One young woman said a psychiatrist told her she was "too pretty" to have depression and anxiety, and suggested she take some self-confidence books out of the library.
Tales of mental health professionals' unsympathetic and sometimes clueless responses also emerged. One woman who had lost four stone in a few months because she "hated [herself]" and had contemplated suicide multiple times was told, "Life’s how you view it, it’s like a glass half empty or a glass half full," and sent away.
Another woman was made to wait 24 hours after being admitted to A&E for a suicide attempt, only to be seen by a psychiatrist for 30 minutes and sent away with a list of telephone numbers to call in a mental health crisis and no referral to a psychiatric unit, despite her assurances that she was still at risk.
In response to Reynolds' original tweet, many people also criticised modern approaches to mental health issues for placing the onus on individual sufferers and failing to acknowledge the relationship between mental health and external pressures, like the housing crisis and the rising cost of living.
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, please get help. Call Mind on 0300 123 3393 or text 86463.