Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A Big Moan on Behalf of Lots of People

A friend of mine has recently been admitted to an NHS mental health unit. I went to see her yesterday. For someone who's not a healthcare professional I'm fairly clued up on good ways of addressing mental health problems. I think a healthy diet, gentle exercise, plenty of activities, regular counselling, advice about potential medication and a peaceful environment are the most obvious things that should be offered. My friend has so far seen none of these.

She described the food as "minging" but was told I couldn't bring fresh fruit in for her because "I might have injected it with alcohol" - the irony being that I did have alcohol in my bag when I went in and no-one even checked. At breakfast she was told she could have either butter or jam on her toast, but not both (while ketchup and mayonnaise are not rationed so it's not even a health or budget thing). She said very little food was provided and for instance she was required to choose between dessert and a piece of fruit and ended up having to choose the dessert because it was more filling. Vending machines with crisps and snacks are next to the place where food is served.

The only place to exercise is a tiny courtyard. There is a small gym clearly visible next to reception but no-one recalled anyone being allowed to use it and some people thought it might be for staff, not patients. She does not feel safe going out into the courtyard alone as she has already seen fights and staff do not maintain watch.

No activities offered except that she was told there would be karaoke at some future date (what about art, yoga, meditation, exercise?). She was told on admittance there was a DVD room but when she asked to use it they said there wasn't one (and then it emerged there was, and eventually they let her use it). There is one TV for around 80 patients and because most of the bigger, more aggressive patients are guys, the football is always on which she has no interest in but has been watching out of boredom.

No counselling. Nor any mention of when any would be provided.

One doctor's consultation during which she was asked to give a blood sample and asked if the TV talks to her and if she hears voices and basically nothing else.

The general environment ... where to start? Within ten minutes of arriving a man was stood with his face ten inches from mine shouting "There's mad people in here, I'm Adam, I'm Saddam, you wanna be careful you could meet a mad person in here, we're all mad". The same guy grabbed my hand and creepily kissed it, and stroked another visitors back uninvitedly. My friend is quite glamorous usually but had asked friends to bring in frumpy, longer clothing and stopped washing her hair and wearing make-up in a vain attempt to deter the other patients from a providing a constant barrage of sexual remarks and harassment. When an elderly female relative came to visit her, other patients wolf-whistled at her. Yes - at the elderly relative. Most of the abuse was sex-related although my friend said some patients were also on the receiving end of aggressive racial abuse. Staff did nothing to stop the abuse.

How exactly does anyone think this is helping? I'm not blaming staff, I'm sure they are overworked and ultimately willing to do the best thing. But surely we have to distinguish between patients likely to frighten and intimidate others and patients needing a peaceful supportive environment. Screaming sexual abuse at mental health patients just doesn't seem like it's going to solve anything.


Anji said...

I was in a psychiatric hospital last year and my experience, though not quite as bad as your friend's, was not much better. The patients in the place were basically stagnating. :o/

Elizabeth Rimmer said...

How awful. And also how very unsurprising. mental health services in this country can be so bad (occasionally so good, but overwhelmed everywhere).

butterflywings said...

How utterfly awful. Disgusting. I am so sorry to hear that and hope your friend recovers soon.