I think its quite strong of Catherine Zeta to say publicly that she has been treated for bipolar. Many people don’t have much time for celebrities, but, much like the importance of Jade Goody’s campaign to raise the awareness of cervical cancer by encouraging more young women to go for smear tests, I think there is a place for people in the public domain to raise awareness of such issues.
But cue the people on Twitter today ready to insult Zeta Jones, calling her ‘crazy’ and ‘nuts’ almost immediately following the press statement. I am concerned about such comments, and I sincerely hope that her statement will go some way to educating people about mental health and the stigma surrounding it.
People who suffer from bipolar or depression, or any form of mental health are not ‘nuts’. They are ill, in the same way as someone is ill if they suffer from a physical illness. Yet time and again, many people deem eating disorders as a ‘diet gone wrong’, or a ‘lifestyle choice’, and the stigma is incredible. That is why I support calls from Welsh charities such as Gofal Cymru and Beat Cymru for the introduction of an anti stigma campaign to be launched in Wales to educate people of all ages about mental health- how it affects the sufferer, the family and those around them, as well as how they can seek help and assistance.
I understand on a personal level to a certain extent, as I suffer from post traumatic stress disorder following a car crash I had in 2005 on the Rhigos Mountain in South Wales during freak weather condition, where it started hail stoning at the top of the mountain while on my way to work, and where my car nearly went over the side of the mountain.
I crashed in to the mountain cliffs and my car flipped over. I can’t remember the car going over, but I had glass from the side mirror in my hand, and I was very shaken up. I saw my life flash in front of my eyes, and nurses at the Hospital told me I had been lucky to live as many people, sadly, have died along that road. I was fine at first, I could drive as normal when I left hospital, but gradually over the years, it has worsened, and if the weather is bad (snowing, raining heavily or hail stones) I often panic and cannot drive somewhere. This is especially hard if I have meetings at small village halls to attend!
The same is true of flying. I used to be able to fly perfectly well before my car crash. Now, I have panic attacks every time I go on a plane, especially if there is any turbulence or movement on the plane. I am short of breath, and I think of the worst case scenario of the aeroplane crashing down. It is a horrible experience.
Now, I have panic attacks much more often in my everyday life, which again, I never had prior to the car crash. I understand this isn’t bipolar, and that PTSD is the most common form of mental health, but for the individual concerned, it is something that you have to cope with and contain all the same.
What makes me determined to get reelected, however, is my eagerness to campaign for improved services locally for those with PTSD, depression and other forms of mental health problems. In Neath Port Talbot, for example, following on from an FOI request that I sent to ABMU Health Board recently, I was informed that 17% of patients waiting to see a psychologist for psychological reasons are seen within 12 weeks, 32% have to wait up to 12 months, and 51% have to wait for over 12 months. This is totally unacceptable. I was actually told by my GP to seek alternative avenues to address my own problems as I would be on a waiting list for well over a year. What is worrying is that he is probably telling other patients to do the same. Some people will go private because they can, and others will get increasingly worse as they will not be able to afford any alternative treatments. This has to change.
The debate around treatment for PTSD of late has centred on treatment for ex soldiers who are struggling to access treatment. I agree that this area should be highlighted, but personally, I believe that such services must be improved for everyone in our society- for people who have experienced the horrors of wars, to people who have been in car or train accidents, to those who have experienced personal abuse. The next five years of the National Assembly should be time enough to change this, much like the introduction of a framework for eating disorders during the last Assembly term will change the lives of those suffering from this particular mental illness here in Wales.