Mind Charity Event – The charity Feast!

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This time last year, I was preparing to cycle through Cambridge on a fairly ancient pushbike dressed as Princess Leia, with a papier mache R2D2 strapped to the back of my bike. This is not just because I am a far-too-geeky exhibitionist (although it’s a contributing factor…) but my cycling escapade in the Great British Summer (read: pouring rain) raised £800 for a charity that is very important to me, Mind.

Just over a year ago a good friend of mine killed himself. This was a long time coming, in as far as he had some very serious mental health problems that were not being properly addressed with constructive healthcare. As a friend, it was maddening to hear him get a little worse every time I spoke to him. We suffered from two crucial problems – he felt as though his depression was embarrassing and shameful, and had to be hidden away from as many people as possible. Because he was not alone in that mindset, I had very little experience of dealing with someone with (frequently suicidal) depression, and had no idea what to say or do.

When he reached the point that he seemed dangerously suicidal, I googled ‘mental health helpline’ and started calling any charity that looked like it could offer me some kind of advice on what to do for my friend. Many, like the Samaritans, offer an outstanding listening service (that I know for a fact saved my friend from himself more than once) but they are not in a position to offer advice.

I eventually struck on Mind’s mental health helpline. When I said I was ‘calling about a friend’ they did not immediately assume that this was a lie, and listened carefully to what I had to say. When I explained that I wanted help knowing how to talk to my friend about his depression, what things are dangerous to say to a suicidal person, what things are known to be constructive, they were well-prepared to help. They sent me all sorts of information tailored towards helping someone who is supporting a suicidal friend/relative, and provided me a list of their services in my friend’s area that he may find helpful. Most of these were free or heavily subsidised. After my friend died, again, their website and helpline provided me with outstanding support and comfort.

I found no other mental health charity to offer such impressive services, but more to the point, Mind is one of the key voices in helping to break down the stigma of mental illness, and have it treated as just that: an illness.

This year, I am once again raising money for this charity. I am combining my love of food with a fundraising event, by inviting eight unsuspecting victims guests to my house for a meal. After the meal, they will then donate to charity what they feel that the meal was worth. The guest list is now pretty much confirmed, but as with last year, the Justgiving page I’m using to collect donations is open access. If you would like to make a donation to this charity, you can do so either through the Mind website, or on my Justgiving page (links below).

Make a one-off donation (Mind website): www.mind.org.uk/donate

Make a regular donation (Mind website): www.mind.org.uk/get_involved/donate/make_a_regular_donation

Donate via my Justgiving page: http://www.justgiving.com/Amanda-Brunton1

If you are also in a situation where you either want to seek help for mental illness, or are supporting someone else, you may find the following links helpful.

Mind website: www.mind.org.uk

– Full of useful information (I’ve picked out some links below) and also has a very useful helpline.

Mental health A-Z (Mind website): http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z

Coping with suicidal feelings (Mind website): http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8053_suicidal_feelings

Supporting someone with suicidal feelings (Mind website): http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8065_suicide-supporting_someone_else

The Samaritans: http://www.samaritans.org/

– The Samaritans offer a listening service, although not advice. They are open 24/7.

You can also go to one of their branches, to talk to someone face-to-face, or contact them over email. Details below:

http://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help-you/contact-us

If you’re outside the UK, Befrienders worldwide partner with the Samaritans and offer a worldwide service: http://www.befrienders.org/

If you live in the UK, your first port of call should really be your GP. Some areas are limited in funding for mental healthcare, so it is important to know what other avenues you have for support. Nonetheless, none of the services above can replace a trained mental health practitioner.

 

Thanks for reading – I’ll be sure to post some pictures of the delicious meal I come up with after the event 🙂

 

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The other side of suicide – An inquest

I missed the call a few weeks ago while I was running an event at work, and found an answerphone message that went something along the lines of ‘it’s the coroner’s office, call us back’. When I called back, no one knew who I was or why I had been called. I had an anxious wait while they asked around the office, and by the time I got through to someone, I was just relieved to know that the cause of the phone call was to ask me to give evidence for an inquest for someone I already knew was dead. My friend had committed suicide almost a year before and I had given a statement at the time, and now I was being asked to be interviewed in the coroner’s court and give further evidence.

Prior to the inquest, it would have been nice to deal with someone with some sense of tact, or with adequate training, who could provide useful information. This didn’t happen. Instead, I dealt with someone who told me the wrong date for the inquest (‘oh that’s funny, I gave you the wrong date!’ Hilarious.) who was unable to email me details of the date, time and location of the inquest. To top it all off, he called to tell me that my friend’s father had informed him he would be travelling to the inquest alone, and did I not think he should be travelling with someone? As it was, I didn’t. I was pretty upset and stressed about the whole thing, and in regular contact with my friend’s dad. If he needed someone to go with him, that was his own decision. I wasn’t even travelling from the same part of the country but this apparently passed the coroner’s office by. I’m sure the man at the coroner’s office thought he was being caring and helpful, but in reality, the emotional blackmail was inappropriate and stressful. We had no idea where to get food or if anything would be provided, or how long it would take. Apparently asking for an events co-ordinator capable of using a calendar, providing useful information, and speaking to the bereaved with tact was out of the question.

Thankfully, on the day they took slightly better care of us. The coroner herself was very kind and approachable and tried to put everyone at their ease. The inquest is never used to apportion blame – the only purpose is to establish who the person was, how they died, when they died and where they died. We heard evidence from the pathologist who conducted the autopsy, the cognitive behavioural therapist, the hospital psychiatrist, the police officer who conducted the investigation, the housemate who found the body, and me, as a character witness.

Leading up to his death, my friend frequently told me that the health’care’ he was receiving was insufficient. That he was routinely dismissed, downgraded from urgent care, talked down to and passed from one doctor to another. That he found the therapy sessions to be distressing and draining and that he would go from one person to another, asked uncomfortable and personal questions about his mental distress and suicidal urges, only to be told he just needed to try harder to engage with the therapies and not to kill himself. He would go back home, try harder, give up, try to kill himself, give himself over to therapy again, get told to try harder, get sent home. Wash, rinse, repeat. There are only so many times that a vulnerable and sick person can go through this process before they begin to believe it isn’t worth trying any more, and stop asking for ‘help’.

I was expecting (hoping) to find some poor psychiatrist that knew he was in need of urgent care, maybe even inpatient care, who just didn’t have the resources to treat him. Other mental health professionals I know have this problem all the time – that someone is sick and clearly needs more care, but that there just aren’t the resources to give it. To some extent we saw this with his therapist, who identified that he was far too complex a case for the level of care she was trained and able to offer, and when he came to her saying that he had planned a method and date to kill himself, and just needed to get hold of the pills, she rang all the alarm bells at the hospital she could to try and get him more appropriate help.

What I did not expect was that this was an utterly pointless dead end. The hospital had three levels of care:

Routine: regular three-month checkups

Urgent: a worsening in condition that merited being seen in the next ten working days

Critical: the patient needs to be seen in the next four hours. The patient will do harm to themselves, or someone else without intervention.

Despite outlining suicide plans to a therapist and trying other methods in between (it presumably took a while to get hold of the pills he needed to die) my friend was never considered critical. We were given no answers as to what he would have had to do to be taken that seriously, to have someone believe that he meant himself serious and immediate harm. The psychiatrist simply stated that he had seemed articulate, intelligent and ‘with it’ and was therefore not a high risk patient. My friend was a well-spoken, intelligent, English graduate. Even on the day he died, none of his closest friends guessed at his intentions. Because those who are mentally ill and unstable are not all raving, gibbering maniacs incapable of stringing a sentence together. I know this – the psychiatrist on the other hand seemed flabbergasted.

All I heard all day was ‘we followed protocol’, or ‘it’s ‘XXXX’s responsibility really’ or ‘it didn’t seem like he was going to do it right away’, even when he told his therapist he expected to be dead within the month. My friend told his therapist he wouldn’t give her all the details of his plans as then someone would try to stop him. So when after a hospital appointment where the psychiatrist sent him home after another ‘try harder at your therapy’ consultation with nothing more constructive than a self help book, my friend discharged himself from care, and they simply wrote up the discharge letter the next day. No one saw the appalling lack of support as an issue. No one saw him telling the therapist that he ‘wouldn’t need anyone’s help anymore’ as a sign for concern. And then a few days later, he was dead.

But apparently, this is fine, because protocol was followed. Apparently this is fine, because he wasn’t a ‘critical’ case. Apparently, unless you are a raving lunatic, frothing at the mouth, you never will be. And nothing more will come of this injustice and that practitioner will just go back to following routine. I have never been more angry. I left the room, and called the man a bastard, a shite, a fuckwit, an uncaring cunt, a shit-for-brains and briefly felt better until I realised that I didn’t have the words to express my contempt for this man or the system he represented.

I don’t think that even with proper care my friend could necessarily be saved. He wanted to die. But I do think he deserved better – a better chance at getting well, more compassion, more dignity. And this inquest, distressing as it was, will do nothing to change the system that failed him so badly. And so I ask for three things from you today.

1.) Take mental health seriously. Attention-seeking isn’t a cause for contempt, it is a crude acknowledgement that help is needed. It is not a cause for shame or blame any more than cancer, diabetes, flu, or any other illness is.

2.) Mental healthcare isn’t always up to standard. If your friend tells you they aren’t getting help, take them seriously. Believe that some therapists are unhelpful and condescending or that care isn’t always available. Help them build a network of support so that they don’t have to rely on whatever the doctor offers.

3.) Talk about it. Change it. Don’t keep this issue hidden. Donate to Mind. Fundraise. Raise awareness. Don’t suffer in silence.

It’s Movember!

Or the month formerly known as November. If you’ve never heard of Movember before, get educated. Movember is about ‘changing the face of men’s health’ and raising awareness for difficult issues like prostate and testicular cancer.

It’s about raising awareness and education – getting health checks. Talking about embarassing issues. It’s also about using the month of November to grow as hilarious a tache as possible and raise money doing it. The rules state that all Mo Bros must be clean shaven at the beginning of the month, and then work their hardest to get the best moustache at the end of it.

Chris’ branch of Natwest in Cambridge are taking part, and have their own team page even if currently only Chris is registered on it. Nonetheless, go into NatWest on Fitzroy Street in the last week of Movember and you can fully expect to be met with some month old taches and the chance to donate to this great charity. ‘Male’ cancers just do not get enough publicity or charity relief – so mo bros and mo sistas – it’s time to get tache-tastic.

Life after suicide – a thank you post

Ok boys and girls, this is a seriously neglected blog, and I have lots of fun, adventure and food related posts coming up (I promise!) but first there are some thank yous to make. What I would like to do with this post is to say a massive thank you to everyone who supported me in my comedy charity bike ride which I did for Mind after my friend ended his own life. I started with the distant hope of raising £100 for Mind – I called my mum to ask if this was reasonable. We both though it was a little high and then decided we probably knew ten people between us who could be relied upon to donate £10.

I raised £800.

The messages of love and support on the webpage have been of great comfort to me, and many others. I am amazed by the generosity of everyone who has donated – sometimes total strangers, some even from overseas. Even recently, two people that Brunton number 1 and I know have had real issues with depression that we have been unable to talk to them about because it remains unacknowledged and taboo. This is not acceptable – and Mind is just one of many charities that is seeing that changed. I’m proud to have been able to support this amazing charity, and grateful to all the people that have made it possible. I can’t tell you all just how much it has meant to me that so many people thought this was a cause worth donating to.

Moving on

Suicide itself is still incredibly taboo, and many people are surprised at the frankness with which I tell them that my friend took his own life. I personally feel nothing for the stigma or the taboo – I knew my friend, and I know that his life is worth no less to me for the fact that he ended it. However, it has still been a difficult thing to reconcile, although in many ways it gets better over time. The abruptness of the death undoubtedly makes assimilating the loss into my life, reconciling the idea that my friend has gone, very difficult. He has become both more and less to me all at once – I worry continually that I’ll forget silly things, like what his voice sounded like. As much as it surprises me how quickly certain memories have become vague, it is as though other memories I forgot that I had have come out of hiding. Things which never used to make me think of Burgess now often serve as a (sometimes sad) reminder – things like old tape decks and record players, Neon Bible, and in-jokes that no one gets any more. I read our old emails and remember that before the depression took hold there was a rich and varied life there, and that we were awesome together.

‘Are you Twiglet?’

The thing that actually makes me the saddest is the loss of my nickname – only Burgess ever called me it. It was funny (and awkward) when my suicide note was addressed to ‘Twiglet’ with an accompanying note saying ‘someone please call Twiglet’ and my number. Unfortunately no one knew who the hell Twiglet was and I was saved in his phone and address book as ‘Twiglet’. When the police eventually called there was an awkward ‘are you Twiglet?’ conversation that was so funny I wanted to be able to tell Burgess – it was only when I realised I couldn’t that the enormity of what had happened hit me. Now no one gets to call me Twiglet, and it surprises me every time how sad that makes me. I’ve also learned that it is not appropriate to laugh hysterically at being called Twiglet by a police officer. I think I weirded that poor lady out more than a little bit.

I’m sure any of you who were close to Burgess (and even some who weren’t) will relate to the feeling that it never feels like the right time to ‘move on’. I find myself thinking I wish that his death would just stop making me sad, and then feeling terribly disrespectful because it should be a sad-making thing. I’m reliably assured this is all part of the process. The sense of loss doesn’t really go away – you just get used to the weight of it on your shoulders, get used to the feeling that he is actually gone. Burgess used to refer to suicide as ‘leaving’ or ‘catching the bus’ and it never really felt like a permanent thing, almost as though you could just be dead for a while until you got better, like some kind of extreme rehab. Having spent months talking about suicide this way, I had almost become desensitised to what suicide would actually mean, and the permanence of what he had done to himself came as an awful shock. It makes it hard to accept that until we meet again in the great Western Bank library in the sky, this is it. I’m gradually getting used to the idea of life without my pal – it’s a slow process, but I’m getting there. I wish all the best for anyone reading this who is going through the same.

Continuing support

No one deserves to live a life so troubled that they feel as though they need to take their own life, and no one deserves to lose a friend that way – just as no one deserves to die of cancer, or AIDs. That’s why I’ll probably continue to make regular donations to Mind.

My page is open to one-off donations until the end of the month, so anyone who thinks that cycling over 25k in the rain dressed as princess Leia with accompanying R2D2 merits sponsorship there’s still time to rock up and sponsor me.

http://www.justgiving.com/Amanda-Brunton

There’s also a main ‘In Memory’ page where people can continue to do ‘In Memory’ sponsorship events and read all the lovely comments people have posted, or donate directly to Mind.

http://www.justgiving.com/remember/20094/Alex-Burgess

So thanks to all the generous people who made this all possible (you’re all awesome!) and thanks to all the people who’ve been instrumental in helping me through this difficult time (you all get a pat on the back).

Burgess would be super embarrassed by all this fuss, but doesn’t get to do anything about it, so here’s a chirpy mugshot of us both 🙂 We made an awesome pair!