Comment is free readers on ... mental health and support | The people's panel

As care for those with mental illness makes headlines, four Comment is free readers share their experiences

The government's changes to the welfare system have prompted warnings over the potentially devastating effect on people with mental health illnesses. Here, four commenters talk about their first-hand experience of the support on offer.

Linda Bates aka essequamvideri: 'Having to move 90 miles to access treatment has been a massive wrench'

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I was first admitted to hospital at 11. After my A-levels the anorexia could no longer be ignored and I was admitted to a specialist NHS eating disorder unit. This team were responsible for my care for the next nine years, even when I went away to study. But in the second term of my PhD, I was referred instead to the Cambridgeshire services. The psychiatry team had few resources, and my GP could only offer 10-20 minutes every three weeks or so. I was desperate for help, pushed from one professional to another. Last year I was sectioned and had to be tube-fed. Since those dark days, I got the keys to a flat where I can live when I'm discharged later this month. I'd heard the words "postcode lottery" many times but it only made sense to me when I had to live in Cambridge but was unable to gain any support there. Having to move 90 miles to access treatment has been a massive wrench. I'm much better now and hope that I can maintain this progress.

Karen Bester aka KarenBester: 'The NHS should be prepared to fund talking therapies until an individual can manage a normal life'

Karen Bester
Karen Bester Photograph: Karen Bester Photograph: Karen Bester

I first entered the system aged 13. My diagnoses include complex post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and social anxiety. I had my worst breakdown in 2008 and had to leave my full-time job. The crisis team was utterly abysmal; only after much championing via one wonderful GP did I finally see a psychiatrist. In time, I approached a voluntary organisation for psychotherapy, which has trumped anything the NHS has ever given me. The NHS should be prepared to fund talking therapies until an individual can manage a normal life. It is a false economy to curtail this assistance as the cost to society – through benefit claims, unnecessary hospitalisations and the burden placed on carers – is likely to be greater in the long term. If I had broken my leg, the NHS would have kept it in a cast until it was as well healed as possible. Why is my mind treated differently?

Andrew Voyce aka andrew12: 'I and others have Margaret Thatcher to thank for social emancipation'

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I developed schizophrenia when extreme life events combined with a predisposition to develop psychosis. This was in my early 20s – I'm now 60. My relations with my family have been very problematic. I have always fended for myself in statutory care for my mental illness, and my family has not been instrumental in my progress. As a user of the welfare state I have benefited from the closure of the old asylums, where I was a revolving door patient. I was constantly admitted and discharged until 1991, with the establishment of community care programmes. Strangely enough, I and others have Margaret Thatcher to thank for this act of social emancipation. In the community, I have been supported to gain a BA and an MA, and currently play a lead role in a social enterprise that enables people to engage in creative activities; we are about to post an original song on our website, entitled At Least I'm Not a Schizophrenic.

Tania Nolan aka asmallvoice: 'Not all sufferers of psychological disorders need to be disabled for all of their life'

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My bipolar symptoms started with severe depression. Getting out of bed was a day's work. I was treated with antidepressants, and the relief I felt was amazing. Then I crash-landed. So began the bipolar cycle. I had an immediate referral to a psychiatrist and was prescribed lithium. I was also referred to a clinical psychologist, Mary, who saved my life. I was taught the skills of cognitive behavioural therapy, which I still use several years later. There was no limit to the number of appointments we had. At first we met weekly, then less frequently as I learnt to be independent. As a result of the excellent care I received, I cost the NHS a low dose of antidepressants each month and an annual GP check. In return I am independent of state benefit or more specialised healthcare. Investment in careful education early on reaps benefits later on: not all sufferers of psychological disorders need to be disabled for all of their life. I recognise how fortunate I am to have been sick at the right time. What a sad reflection on the current healthcare provisions.

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