In July, at the Healthwatch Cambridgeshire and Peterborough AGM, she joined our panel debating local mental health services and support.
As an ‘expert by experience’ she told the meeting about her life-long mental health struggles and how the county’s specialist personality disorder community team had saved her life.
A few months on, invitations to talk about her mental health journey are coming in thick and fast.
Having worked with local charities including Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and South Lincolnshire Mind and the SUN Network to promote and develop mental health services, Bex is sharing her story with health professionals across the region. She’s also giving Cambridge University Hospitals’ academic research scientists a personal insight into mental health conditions and illnesses.
After a lifetime of mental health problems – some of them severe and hugely debilitating, today Bex is feeling well, positive… and free.
Self-harming at the age of 11
Her mental ill health began at the age of 11 when she started self-harming as she hit puberty.
“In those days – 1981 – in Yorkshire, where I was brought up, mental health wasn’t talked about. It was just mood swings. There were no services, no support.
“I had no help at school at all. I couldn’t talk to anyone, so nobody knew that I was suffering so badly. And in hindsight, I now know I was incredibly depressed because I had suicidal thoughts and all the main features of depression.”
After leaving school, Bex suffered a breakdown. In her early 20s she was diagnosed as bipolar and later with borderline personality disorder (now reclassified as emotionally unstable personality disorder).
Since then, she has been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), an eating disorder, a major depressive disorder and Asperger syndrome.
“I really hit the lottery when it came to mental health,” she says. “Personality disorder is a chronic, horrendous illness to live with. I was very mercurial – up and down for months and months at a time.
”Over the years I’ve had pretty heavy medication, there’s been some deeply chaotic behaviour, off-the chart mood swings and a very serious suicide attempt which obviously didn’t succeed.”
A life-changing move to Cambridgeshire
Her life dramatically changed course when she moved to Cambridgeshire in 2007 where her now partner was living.
“I started looking for a supportive GP who was really interested in mental health. After a lot of research, I found a brilliant doctor close by in Huntingdon and because he was young and had his finger on the pulse, he knew about the new personality disorder team that had been set up in the county – at the time it was just a pilot.
“When I heard I had a place on the programme, I burst into tears. I was scared but incredibly relieved at the same time. It felt like a miracle.
“Throughout those two years I felt totally surrounded by people who cared. I had the most amazing doctor in clinical psychology who helped me to transform my life.
“From the start you knew that the support was going to be time-limited. I didn’t have any problem with that. It’s not ambiguous at all and you know that eventually you are going to have to cope solo.
“But for seven weeks before you finish, you are fully-prepared. There was an option for a recovery coach too.
“So at the end, I felt ready. I knew I had so much work still to do and I knew that I’d do it and which direction I had to go.
“On my last day, it felt like I’d graduated and it was time for the training wheels to come off.”
Rising demand for local services
Bex considers herself incredibly lucky to have that service locally.
“This team of very dedicated individuals saved my life. That might sound very dramatic but it’s the truth. This team are life-changers and I’d like to see the service rolled-out nationally.
“Around 2.6% of UK adults are diagnosed with the disorder which isn’t insignificant. A lot more are probably undiagnosed.”
Elsewhere in Cambridgeshire, Bex worries about rising demand for mental health services and how many children and young people need support.
Across the county, demand for statutory services exceeds capacity and many people’s needs are too complex for lower level wellbeing support or not severe enough for the specialist services.
As a result, many people end up not getting help due to the service gaps.
Feeling positive about the future
“Since I I left treatment, I’ve continued to work on my recovery and my partner plays a huge, huge part in that.
“When I met him, I kept everything from him as I was petrified about what he would think.
“In the end, I had to come clean. I told him to think about it all, research things and, if it was all too much, I gave him the option of walking away.
“He stayed. He’s the most incredible human being I know.”
Find out more
Personality Disorder Community Team
This service is provided by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough NHS Foundation Trust. Find out more
Keep Your Head
The KYH website brings together information on mental health and wellbeing for children, young people and adults across Cambridgeshire & Peterborough. Find out more
Cambridgeshire, Peterborough and South Lincolnshire (CPSL) Mind
Runs a range of services including crisis sanctuaries, community-based wellbeing support, help for new mums in Peterborough, CBT and counselling. Find out more
The SUN Network
Supporting Cambridgeshire and Peterborough people who use mental health and drug and alcohol services to have a say in service development. Find out more
Share your views on mental health services
Services need to know what mental health provision is like for people to help them improve in the future. Do you have experiences that you want to share?
Talk to us and help make mental health better
Call 0330 355 1285
Text 0752 0635 176