Why I called a Mental Health Helpline

A personal note from the Founder, Dr Tamara Bugembe

Most people associate calling a mental health helpline with reaching crisis point, but telephone helplines can be very useful long before you get to that point, especially if you can’t get out the house with your newborn and are worried about Post-Natal Depression (PND).

This week is UK Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week and we are lucky to have several agencies in the UK that run helplines dedicated to supporting parents with their mental health concerns.

Often these valuable services get overlooked and neglected. Hopefully, sharing the reasons why I and several other parents I spoke to, called a telephone helpline will help someone pick up the phone and connect with the help they need.

  1. It is hard enough to get a GP appointment: With the current state of the NHS people are waiting days and sometimes weeks for a GP appointment. When you finally get seen by the GP, you only have a small window of time (typically around 8 minutes) to describe your symptoms, get an assessment and come up with a plan. This rush can make it easy for things to get missed, glossed over, or forgotten and I have often left my appointment feeling unsatisfied and unheard.

Chatting through your problems and concerns with a helpline volunteer helped me get my thoughts organised and prioritised, so that when I walked into my GP appointment, I had a clear plan in mind.

  1. They may know a shortcut: Often, the GP may not be the ideal person to address your concerns. If this happens, they will refer you to the appropriate service. Some community mental health services will take referrals from other professionals or even self-referrals, allowing you to bypass your GP, and access their support sooner. When you are carrying the weight of depression, it is important to get to the right agency that can help you early.

Calling a Helpline first, may save you delays and having to repeat your story over and over again. Volunteers at helplines are trained to signpost you to appropriate services saving you time and energy and getting you the help you need in the most efficient way.

  1. The luxury of time: When I called a helpline, I wasn’t sure what to call my problem, all I knew was that I had a list of thoughts and feelings, but I didn’t know what they meant. Your GP may not have the time to prize apart your symptoms and accurately, identify depression, anxiety or other mental health difficulties. Post-Natal Depression may look different in different people, and in the early stages it can be subtle and difficult to spot. Having the time to talk about your feelings can help you recognise your PND earlier, which will increase your chance of having a better response to treatment.
  1. Privacy: A lot of progress has been made to spot and combat mental health difficulties, but the stigma around mental health conditions continues. Even I, have found it difficult to seek help for my mental health problems and I work in the health sector. Some parents may think that what they are feeling makes them a bad parent, others may worry about being ridiculed by the doctor for making a fuss about their feelings, and others may not want to be seen as not coping by members in their community.

Talking about your feelings anonymously with a helpline volunteer allows you to open in a way that doesn’t always happen in doctors’ appointments. Having a safe, sounding board can give you the confidence to seek a medical opinion about how you are feeling.

  1. Convenience: When I was carrying the weight of depression around, I could barely get to the kitchen, let alone leave the house. Leaving the house with a baby is a huge mission of military proportions. If you are struggling with depression or any other mood disorder, it may seem like a huge undertaking to get everything (nappy bags, feeds, change of clothes etc.) organised for a journey out of the house. A helpline is a convenient way to talk about your feelings with minimal effort, stress and organisation.

If you think that you or a loved one may have Post-Natal Depression, please contact the helplines at MIND and PANDASFOUNDATION to speak to trained volunteers. Join the conversation about PND every evening this week (May 1-7th) at 8-9pm on ##maternalMHmatters and #PNDHour.

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