"It is the compassion and kindness of the staff I met during my time in hospital that has stuck with me. The NHS is a great and wonderful thing."
James Withey is a former service user and author. When James thought there was no hope, it was the kindness and compassion of the NHS and a small library of books that helped him when he needed it most.
James has used his experiences to help others and is the author of The Recovery Letters, using the power of words to provide and share hope when people need it most.
In his own words, this is his amazing story:
“My most memorable experience of the NHS was in 2012 when I suffered a mental health crisis. I felt suicidal, I didn’t know what to do but I knew I needed to get myself somewhere safe. I rang the Mental Health Helpline on my way to A&E and they were really brilliant.
“When I got to A&E I had to wait for a long time before I could speak with the Mental Health Liaison nurse. I spent the night there and the next day went to Mill View Hospital. My overriding memory of this time was how kind, compassionate and just lovely the ambulance staff were. We all knew I was very unwell but their gentleness and humanity made it seem just a bit better for that moment.
“I stayed at Mill View for one week during which time I was on suicide watch. I felt really scared and still a bit unsafe but I knew it was where I needed to be to remain safe. The staff team were horrifically busy and visibly stretched. This did not stop their compassion shining through, though. I remember one woman who had to take my belt from me and anything else that I could hurt myself with; she was very gentle and incredibly nice. I really felt cared for which was absolutely what I needed in that moment.
“Staying at Mill View gave me a space to feel safe and time to gather my thoughts a bit. I found it really hard to engage with other people while there but I did find solace in the small library room. Books have always been important to me and even though I couldn’t concentrate for long enough to read, I felt comforted in that room just to be surrounded by them. Books can offer a real connection for people and I felt that then.
“It struck me while at the hospital that what I really needed was to see a glimmer of hope. I couldn’t imagine I would or could ever feel better but I had heard of people in recovery from depression. It was sitting in the small library room at Mill View that the idea for what was to become a book, The Recovery Letters, came back to me. I’d thought about it before but now I knew it was something I really wanted to be able to put together to help other people.
“So, when I left the hospital I started a blog and created a Twitter account. It gave people an opportunity to write messages of hope for people in the depth of their depression. I was overwhelmed with the amount of people that came forward. Eventually, I set up a website. The aim of the letters is to inject some hope into someone’s situation where it can feel like depression is an all-enveloping cloud closing down reason and objective thought.
The letters are a small voice combatting that by saying:
‘There is hope, there is a future, we know it, we’ve been there too.'
The idea for the Recovery Letters came from being surrounded by books and eventually the opportunity to create a book with Olivia Sagan, Head of Division for Psychology & Sociology at Edinburgh University. The book is now widely distributed with letters from people all across the world who have experienced depression, and talk honestly about their experience and give reason for people to hope for better times to come.
“A letter is such a simple premise but it is often these simple interventions that can make the most difference.
“The same can be said for Mental Healthcare. It is the compassion and kindness of the staff I met during my time in hospital that has stuck with me. The NHS is a great and wonderful thing. There are a lot of problems but there are so many times when the NHS gets it so right. “The staff that work there do so because they really care and their genuine passion for helping people to feel valued and helping them to feel better is incredibly powerful. I experienced some really valuable formal interactions with Doctors who helped me access the right medication and it is the people who chatted to me and treated me with gentleness and patience that really stay in my mind. People in the NHS really care and that is the most important thing. “