Claire Frankland's mental health support group based in Castlemilk, Glasgow, is a life saver. So much so even GPs are now referring patients to her
To call our self-support group life saving is not overestimating what we do. We hear it often said that without the support of the group people with mental health problems would have taken their own lives. That’s how crucial support is.
It’s changed days from when I was young. I first experienced clinical depression when I was 14, following the death of my sister who drowned in a boating accident. My GP at the time – a man who had little empathy for people let alone his patients – smirked when I told him how I felt. He told me “You’ll come to learn life is tough” and told me he didn’t treat “made up” illnesses and that I'd learn to "get real".
That experience put me off ever visiting a doctors again for the next four years during which my depression became more pronounced. Eventually I sought support from the welfare staff at my university when I was 18 and that helped enormously.
I’m not so sure we’ve come so far on from when I was young and needing support. People come to our group saying they feel let down by the system and that the NHS and clinical support services don’t provide nearly enough support, if at all. Yet we’re not psychiatrists or psychologists; all we do is self-medicate through experience and support and that provides a world of difference to those who are often at their lowest ebb.
We managed to meet with the NHS Greater Glasgow psychological services’ team and told them about the work the support group undertakes. It let practitioners know what we do and how we help. We came up with positive examples of how the support network saved even those with suicidal thoughts, not through medication but through talking and practical help.
Executives from the NHS’s mental health teams have signposted our network to GPs who will tell patients in their local area that we are an option should they want to get in touch. It’s all strictly voluntary and it’s an excellent example of how the NHS should be working with community groups in local areas to provide a range of support options to patients.
We too easily seek support from medication before we look to loved ones and friends
The group assigns sponsors to everyone who comes to us. It’s similar to a mentoring role but no-one takes precedent over the other. The relationships are mutual where both support each other. It’s vitally important that this kind of support isn’t dominating and both get something out of it.
The difference between us and formal clinical services is everyone in our group has mental ill health problems and that in itself gives everyone confidence. Of course the NHS is crucial and we don’t undermine the services available. Instead we see the group as an additional option to statutory NHS services.
GPs have little time and they would rather prescribe anti-depressants than spend time discussing issues with patients. That’s not going to get better; it may well get worse and I think that is why third sector support network like ours are going to be even more vital in the years ahead.
We need to get away from the thinking that the NHS is our only option when seeking support. Therefore we need to make community health options better accessible and better known. That’s what we’re trying to achieve and to a large extent we’re winning that fight.
You can contact Claire in the strictest confdidence at email@example.com