“So,” said my GP, peering at me expectantly. “What do you want to do?” in a tone that suggested I might have the foggiest clue as to how my exhaustion and inability to cope should be fixed. It was that precise moment, as I resisted the urge to throw my chair at him, that I completely and utterly lost faith with the NHS’s capacity to deal with mental health issues.
After a further fortnight of sleepless nights and listless, exhausted days I did what anyone who can beg, borrow or steal money off family would do. I sought private health treatment. And that was the day things began to change for me.
Within 20 minutes of meeting a new doctor I heard the words ‘my diagnosis is’ and ‘this is what we need to do’. Someone was finally taking control for me, and I literally wept with relief.
It’s not that she has access to vast libraries of information that the NHS is cut off from, nor that I have three-hour long appointments with her – my new doctor simply takes me seriously and instils confidence in me that she knows what she’s doing. I may have to sell a kidney to pay off her bills but to me that’s a small price to pay for renewed hope.
Depression is a physical illness but I have yet to come across an NHS doctor who even vaguely entertains the idea that it may have physical causes, beyond the bog standard thyroid and diabetes tests that are carried out. I’m currently being treated for poor digestion – something I seem to suffer from that stops my body absorbing essential nutrients and causes me all manner of problems. Don’t get me wrong I’m still taking antidepressants and following all the usual protocol for poor mental health, but this is the first time in four years of suffering that any medical professional has moved beyond throwing pills at me and sending me to therapy. All the CBT in the world won’t get you far when your body lacks the basic nutrients required to fight everyday stress.
It’s not a relief to see a doctor that doesn’t look at me quizzically before muttering “shall I refer you to a psychiatrist then?” when I desperately try to assert that my fatigue has non psychological roots. It’s life saving.
I know that, in essence, our health service does wonderful things and it’s under enormous pressure at the moment. I know that not all GPs are ignorant about mental health in fact many are fantastically clued up. But in an age where stress is such a large part of normal life, the two-pronged ‘medication vs psychotherapy’ approach to depression treatment isn’t always enough. Sometimes we need to dig beneath the surface to seek out the niggly little ailments that are contributing to poor physical and mental health so that we treat the root cause of depression, not just the symptoms.