MANDY STEVENS

46, NHS DI­REC­TOR

Women's Health (UK) - - STRENGTH IN NUMBERS - Twit­ter @mandys­tevens22

‘On the day I was ad­mit­ted to an acute psy­chi­atric ward, I show­ered, put on my suit and drove to a 9am meet­ing in Lon­don to ad­vise an NHS ex­ec­u­tive team on how they could im­prove qual­ity. Never mind that my doc­tor had di­ag­nosed me with de­pres­sion 10 days ear­lier and I was on the verge of end­ing my life. I had a job to do.

After the meet­ing, I walked to my car and just fell apart. Some­thing told me if I started the car, I’d wind up dead. Sob­bing in the driver’s seat, I called my lo­cal cri­sis re­sponse team, who asked me to come into hos­pi­tal for a cou­ple of nights. I knew staff on the ward would recog­nise a se­nior NHS di­rec­tor cry­ing un­con­trol­lably, un­able to speak or walk, but I was past car­ing.

I thought I’d be in hos­pi­tal for two or three days. I ended up stay­ing for three months. For the first four weeks, my mind hummed over how I could kill my­self, and I came close to sui­cide many times. It is tes­ta­ment to the at­ten­tive­ness of the staff that I didn’t. I was lucky enough to be cared for in one of the two men­tal health NHS Trusts in Eng­land ranked out­stand­ing by the Care Qual­ity Com­mis­sion. Had I been ad­mit­ted else­where, I might not have had such a high level of care. When I was dis­charged, the ex­treme anx­i­ety I felt made me a pris­oner in my own home for an­other three months.

A long ca­reer in men­tal health taught me that peo­ple do get bet­ter. But not ev­ery­one knows that. Peo­ple kill them­selves be­cause they be­lieve they will never re­cover, and that’s why the cul­ture of si­lence around men­tal ill­ness is so dan­ger­ous.

It’s why, on one of my dark­est days, I took a pic­ture of my­self. I wanted to doc­u­ment how des­per­ate I felt, so that when I did even­tu­ally feel bet­ter, I could post it on­line to prove that re­cov­ery is pos­si­ble. That pic­ture and story have since been shared over a mil­lion times. Al­most a year on, I feel like my­self again and 100% re­cov­ered. I’m back work­ing; I’m laugh­ing with the friends who gave un­wa­ver­ing sup­port; and I’m shar­ing my story with every NHS di­rec­tor of nurs­ing. De­pres­sion feels un­bear­able. But re­cov­ery is pos­si­ble.’

‘I went from man­ag­ing nurses to be­ing a sui­ci­dal pa­tient’

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