Tuesday, 19 August 2014

35. The letter in the newspaper

Within days of publishing my reflections on the lack of understanding and resources for depressive illness, it went to the top of the list of popular posts. Presumably (and hopefully) this is because like me, others thought it was important, and shared it with their friends.

Straight after writing that post, I sat down and wrote to the Guardian - my first ever letter to a national newspaper. They published an edited version in today's edition (including a link to this blog), with the full version on-line. Here it is.

Since being diagnosed with breast cancer this spring, I have been amazed at the immediate availability of treatment, resources, sympathy, understanding and time off work. This has all been hugely welcome and important in coping with my illness. The support extends to my husband, who is never questioned about his need to take time off to care for a wife with cancer. I am strongly aware of the disparity between the support I have received and the desperate lack of resources available for equally debilitating and potentially life-limiting illnesses such as depression (‘Last week my son took his life. We will never know why’ 15 August). I suspect much of this is due to societal attitudes to certain types of illness or disability, and a misconception that mental health problems are somehow your own fault. Many people could imagine getting cancer (“there but for the grace of God”), but mental illness remains unimaginable.

The boundaries between physical and mental health, however, are paper-thin. My need for time off has been due not only to the physical effects of cancer treatments but also to the huge psychological and emotional adjustments I have had to make. This, too, is understood and resourced, from easy access to cancer support nurses to free mindfulness training courses for cancer patients.

There is a long way to go before we will achieve true parity of esteem between physical and mental health services. I hope the current public debate will contribute to people with depression getting the same amount of support that I have benefited from.

Dr Irene Tuffrey-Wijne
Associate professor in nursing, St George’s, University of London, and Kingston University, and author of whenowlhadcancer.blogspot.co.uk

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