Since launching #time4change - The Mental Health Charter, back in 2016, I thought that I had seen and heard most horror stories around the acceptance and treatment of Mental Illness. How wrong could I have been?
Over the past year I've been made aware of 'what happens next' when it comes to people struggling with severe mental illnesses. So whilst this category is (thankfully) so much smaller, it's of course no less important.
Firstly someone caught my attention via a FaceBook post, where they eloquently explained the difficulties that they were experiencing whilst trying to search for some more intensive therapy. To be clear, this was somebody that recognised that they were ill, and somebody seeking help, but who was unable to access the help due to waiting lists and red tape. I had assumed that this was just someone being 'unlucky' in the system. Our industry seems to almost demand at times that we don't put down roots, moving from flatshare to houseshare with relative ease. The nomadic existence suits our 'Peter Pan' mentality. However if you're waiting to receive specialist care from a certain area of the NHS it would appear that no two areas chat to each other. Therefore the moment that you move, you have to return to the start of the system all over again. So you're basically in a game of snakes and ladders, with the winner getting the treatment that they need . . . eventually.
So clearly some joined up thinking would be useful, and indeed would also be most cost effective in the long run.
This FB post also touched on the conclusions that medical professionals were jumping to when they were admitted by ambulance to A&E. Seemingly if you're perceived to have Mental Health difficulties, your physical symptoms are completely overlooked - even if that was why you called the emergency services in the first place.
My assumption that this was somebody being particularly unlucky in their hour of need was challenged, when I found myself in the role of an advocate for someone who had also needed to pay a visit to A&E due to physical symptoms, only to have been written off as someone with mental illness, and the physical symptoms not being checked. . . at all. This is in spite of having people with them who clearly stated that their Mental Health was not the issue (on this occasion).
Or how about the time that somebody presented in A&E because the Mental Health crises team (who were already connected to the patient), just didn't think that the person warranted their attention?
That's right - for those people who have serious mental health difficulties, there's a crises team that doctors can hook you up with. This is designed to help keep you safe. Except that they don't. They appear to spend most of their time explaining to the patient why they can't help them. This is such a regular event, that when I complained to our local MP about it, I was told that they already knew, they gave me an awful example of when 'the system' had 'really let down a patient', and said that they'd look into it . . . again. They also added that I might have to wait until after Brexit!
Then I heard of someone getting sectioned. Now you can be sectioned for one of two reasons, you're a danger to other people, or you're a danger to yourself. The person I knew got sectioned to protect themselves after an unsuccessful attempt at taking their own life. In truth I thought that this was bloody brilliant. Finally they would be in a safe environment with the right people looking after them, until such a time that they could keep themselves safe.
How wrong could I have been. They were kept in a general ward for just over a week - get this bit, on 1:1 obs because it was felt that their risk to self harm was so great. However the people doing the 1:1 obs were clearly uneducated in mental health, and were saying the most inappropriate things to the patient. Things that actually made them feel worse? At night it was their snoring that kept them awake - that'll be the snoring of the people being paid to be on a shift to keep a vulnerable person safe.
Some 9 days later they got moved to a specialist unit. . . at 11pm at night!!! They were told just 30 minutes earlier. The 1:1 suddenly disappeared(although no updated risk assessment was taken). Now you tell me how that is good for anyone? However it gets better. When they arrived at the unit they were told that there wasn't a bed for them after all, so at 2am they were moved AGAIN.
You'd think that their story would get better here though wouldn't you, after all they are now warded in a specialist Mental Health ward - but nope! There were clearly not enough staff to deal with the number of patients and they can't even ensure that their belongings will be safe (as they have a lot of theft), let alone the patient. After just a few days, the sectioned patient, who don't forget, hasn't received ANY help since they were first admitted, has been threatened by other patients, physically grabbed by other patients, and is now more in terror of their life than ever before. Not exactly the 'safe environment' that we all imagine is it?
Last year I wrote a musical called Oh My, Nellie Bly. About the American stunt journalist who volunteered to get sectioned and famously spent "10 Days in A Madhouse". The stories that she told were haunting, and in fact she got the law changed to enable people suffering from mental illnesses to be treated more humanely.
Fast forward a century, and great that we don't have 'asylums' anymore. Great that talking about Mental Health is currently 'the thing of the moment'. However it is truly a National disgrace that our system is letting down the most vulnerable at a time that they need a 'system' the most. So Mr MP who's waiting for Brexit to be over until you're prepared to raise this matter AGAIN, you're playing with the lives of the very people you profess to be trying to help in your great orations.
Our government is currently paying lip service to the idea of a Mental Health overhaul, but vulnerable, ill people are actually being exploited by a system that fails to treat them with any dignity. There's no rehabilitation going on. They're simply removing the 'problem' from society, regardless of what their story is.
It's an uncomfortable read isn't it? Well welcome to the 2019 Britain. This is a reality right now for too many people. #time4change....#time4abloodyoverhaul