The Rocky Road of Mental Health


Ahead of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival, Julie Dawson writes frankly of her own experiences of depression.

Image of The Rocky Road of Mental Health

As entry for submissions to the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival ends on April 11th, Julie Dawson writes intimately and frankly of her own experiences of struggling with depression.

When my family GP first prescribed fluoxetine (more commonly known by the brand name Prozac), he was not sure whether I was depressed. I had undergone a psychiatric evaluation with a specialist but left in frustration after being told that, despite nearly a decade of self harm, suicidal ideation and one unsuccessful attempt on my own life, my mental issues weren’t sufficiently long term or serious enough to warrant treatment. However, the psychiatrist helpfully suggested, it might be useful to enroll in an assertiveness class. That was nearly twenty years ago, but for the one in four British people who have experienced mental illness [1], such stories are still all too familiar.

15% of the population still believe that ‘people with mental health problems are often dangerous’ [2]. This is the lowest figure ever, but demonstrates that the stigma attached to mental issues is still very much present. In reality, the greatest danger people suffering from mental illness present is to themselves: 6,000 people in Britain commit suicide each year [3] and it is the leading cause of death in men under 35 years old [4]. Nor is there much in the way of “early intervention”. 800,000 adults across Scotland are unsure of where to seek help for mental health problems [5], most people who would meet the criteria for a diagnosis do not consult their GP [6], and 25% of those who experience such issues wait more than a year to seek treatment [7].

Britain’s obesity epidemic regularly makes the news and yet comparatively little is written about mental illness, despite the World Health Organisation’s startling prediction that depression will become the world’s most disabling condition by 2030. [8] In fact, 15% of the UK’s disease burden is caused by mental illnesses yet they receive just 5% of the total funding for health research [9]. Our health service is overburdened, financially stretched and treatment options for mental health are inconsistent. During my lowest ebb, my GP asked me to complete a HADS (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale) test. Based on my scores, I was deemed  “too ill” for the standard CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to be effective, and no further treatment was offered.

Such failures have a direct relation to a popular view of mental illness which has failed to keep pace with current research. One might reasonably expect that the stigma suffered by the mentally ill can be left at the surgery door, but in reality people experiencing mental health problems have reported that one of the places they feel most affected by the stigma of mental illness is within the very services that should be helping them [10]. Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of SANE, commented ‘If a patient were in a coma or presenting with severe physical injuries, a bed would have to be made available. But mental illness, however life-threatening, is invisible and as long as a person can walk into A&E, it is easier to turn them away.‘ [11]

One of the most powerful ways of changing public perception is by sharing our stories, which is a key aspect of the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. Now entering its eighth year, the festival stretches across a variety of art forms and venues throughout Scotland. It is a key initiative to sponsors including the Mental Health Foundation, see me (Scotland), and the NHS, and an essential opportunity for industry professionals, articulate amateurs, health care workers and audiences alike, to share their experiences and explore the links between creativity and mental health. The 2014 edition of the International Mental Health Film Competition is open until 11 April, and offers a chance to tell your story, with winning entries screened and honoured during the festival this October.

Unfortunately I am still waiting for my own “happy ending”. It is a long and arduous journey from rock bottom and I’ve got a long way to go yet. But if we can share our experiences, the road feels a little less steep. The people behind the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival are working to provide that most valuable of commodities: hope. By getting involved you might just help make a brighter future for all of us.

Click here for more information about the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival