Freudian slip of the day: I originally typed ‘mind the gay’. Well yes, that too.
Much has been made of the gap between the child and adolescence versus adult mental health services. Possibly to combat this, a huge variety of services have sprung up within the last decade with the aim of helping people aged 18 – 25. There are organisations which provide support groups, free counselling, campaigns, youth mentoring and awareness raising opportunities and so on. It’s all wonderful, and a life line for those who have little other support. But what happens when you reach 26?
By the time you’re 26 and have had a mental health problem (or several) for years, if not a decade plus, things start feeling rather bleak. You are no longer encouraged to hope for full recovery. You are not bombarded with stories of how other people overcame their issues to attend university and discover the cure for cancer. You feel more and more alienated from the increasingly corporate mental health charities, with their shiny case studies of bright young things who got the right help at the right time. The words ‘severe and enduring’ are added to letters and medical notes. You didn’t make it out of the rabbit hole in time, and now your options for the future are beginning to seem rather limited. Time has crept away.
Where are the services for people over the magical age of 25? In recent meetings with other ex service users at the charity I volunteer for (all of us 25+), all have highlighted how important it is to see other people who have managed to get out of crisis mode, and if not recover fully, at least learn how to manage their various conditions. Not manage as in, throw as many drugs at as possible – although there is a place for medication – but by regaining as much quality of life as possible. Whatever that means: being more stable, having an active social life, having a partner, volunteering or working, not feeling like you’re drowning from the moment you wake up until the moment you pass out. Survival ++. I am probably biased, but I feel like this can be especially relevant when it comes to eating disorders, because younger and younger people are written off as chronic and untreatable – sometimes as early as age 18. By the time you get to 26 you’re practically a dinosaur in service user years, which seem to be counted like dog years. God forbid you’re seeking help again in your thirties, forties and beyond. No one seems to understand that sometimes people finally become ready to fight for their lives not at the most opportune moment, not when help is first offered or most readily available – but when the prospect of living ‘like this’ for much longer becomes intolerable, which so often coincides with the point at which help is much harder to come by.
I know the kids are full of promise, and I know we should help as many people as possible escape before their post-adolescent crisis becomes a life long mental illness, and I know it’s not as emotive an issue in the eyes of the public or politics, but how about some funding for targeting this forgotten vulnerable group? Hope shouldn’t be such a rare commodity.