Getting a mental health diagnosis isn’t always easy. Just ask Sheridan Smith

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Kayleigh Dray
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Sheridan Smith with short hair against a yellow background

Sheridan Smith’s struggle to get a diagnosis highlights the complexities of seeking help.

It has been a turbulent few years for Sheridan Smith. In 2016, the actress was given a leave of absence from the theatre production of Funny Girl. That same year, her much loved father, Colin, was diagnosed with cancer – and his death in 2017 caused Smith to feel as if her “life was falling apart”.

Struggling to deal with her feelings of anxiety and depression, the actress made headlines for her “erratic behaviour” – and she was even accused of being drunk on stage, something Smith has always vehemently denied.

“When you have that degree of anxiety, you can’t just pull yourself together and you can’t explain it,” she said previously. “It just snowballs until it’s out of control.”

Now, though, Smith says she is “finally in a good place” – and has opened up about her struggle to get her mental health issues diagnosed in a revealing new interview with BBC Breakfast.

“It’s taken me years to get to a place where I felt like I could own it and then say it,” shared Smith, who plays a mum struggling with schizophrenia in her upcoming film, The More You Ignore Me.

“It was speculated that I was struggling,” she continued, adding that “there were different doctors giving me different medication”. 

Asked what the impetus was for her finally seeking help, Smith explained: “It did take a massive thing to come out and actually say ‘I’m struggling and I need help,’ so I understand that this is hard for people.

“Eventually, I opened up to family members and people could see as well that I was gradually declining and struggling.”

Even when Smith did summon up the courage to ask for help, though, she still faced a long road to recovery – one which even included a misdiagnosis.

“Eventually, after years of going on different medication and just being wrongly diagnosed, I’ve got the right doctor now and I’m in a great place,” she said.

“It takes perseverance, but you do get there.”

Smith is not alone: indeed, it’s widespread knowledge that one in four people in the UK will engage in some sort of battle with their brain at least once during their lifetime. From anxiety to depression, and everything in between, the mind is a difficult beast to tame – and it seems society is finally becoming more accepting of this as a common truth. More people than ever are turning to the NHS for support: in fact, 1.4 million people were referred for talking therapies in 2015 and 2016.

However, there is no denying that the NHS is stretched – and mental health services are woefully underfunded. In the UK, mental health conditions make up around 28% of the total burden of disease, but they receive just 13% of the total NHS budget. Meanwhile, the budget for adult social care, which provides ongoing mental health support, has been cut in real terms by 13.5% in England over the last eight years.

Speaking to Wired about the issue earlier this year, Peter Kinderman, a clinical psychologist at the University of Liverpool, said: “The entire NHS is suffering and the mental health system is a large part of the NHS - and it’s suffering too.”

He added that, as budgets have gotten tighter, demand for help has increased, too. 

“I think there’s been quite a profound change in the last 25 years, that people are now more willing to talk about their mental health,” says Kinderman. “But we just don’t have the systems to respond to it.”

Of course, the NHS aims to see those who have been referred for psychiatric support for mild to moderate issues within a maximum of 18 weeks (statistics suggest that 88% of people are currently seen within this timeframe).

However, just a few months ago, the British Medical Association (BMA) warned that thousands of patients are waiting more than six months for access to psychological “talking therapies”.

Dr Andrew Molodynski, BMA consultants committee mental health lead, told The Independent: “There is increasing inequality between people suffering mild to moderate mental ill health and those with severe mental illness.

“Without the right therapy, some patients deteriorate and become more vulnerable, being passed from GP surgeries to emergency departments unable to find the most appropriate treatment for their illness.”

“Funding for talking therapies should be protected so CCGs can ensure funding reaches services that need it most before it’s too late.”

Make sure you read our advice on how to look after yourself while waiting for NHS mental health support here. And remember: if you need help fast, especially if you feel suicidal, don’t hesitate to contact your GP and ask to be seen that day. Take yourself to A&E if you feel in acute danger. You can also contact The Samaritans and Mind if you need to talk.

Image: Getty