Ok; so, I don’t want to patronize some people with this post but let’s be realistic: there are people out there who will be surprised by these three truths about mental health! And they aren’t all linked to people with stigmatized views, sometimes it can be that a person is simply uneducated in or misunderstanding of mental health. Or perhaps a person simply doesn’t have the insight into mental health that is needed to know these truths. At the same time, I hope that people with an awareness of mental health might still be surprised at some of these!
1. It’s always ‘us’ and ‘them’
The key here is that I didn’t say ‘us vs them.’ Learning that it only seems that way has been one of the many things that’s changed through my mental health recovery. For a long time, I viewed mental health services as service users versing the professionals; but now I know that it isn’t about being in competition, it’s just that we are separate ‘groups’ of people who have a different understanding and experience of the same subject (mental health). And no matter how many helpful, grounded, understanding professionals you get, it doesn’t change that they’re different to be a service user. It’s just that we shouldn’t be at war with one another. That’s a lot harder to see though when you’re focused on self-harming or committing suicide because you begin to see the professionals as the enemy, the opposition. They are the ones who are trying to stop you from doing these things that you might see as necessary or relieving. For me, a lot of my self-harm came from the commands of the auditory hallucinations so for people to stop me meant that they were making the voices louder and a whole lot less tolerable. With the suicide attempts, it wasn’t so much that I believed I deserved to die, as it was about me wanting peace from the voices and the memories of the trauma I’d gone through. The professionals who restrained me and sectioned me to stop this from happening became my enemy and I’d see them as the opposition. And whilst my belief was that death would be a welcome relief, I viewed the professionals stopping me as cruel. Like they were making me suffer through what my life had become. Now that I’m in recovery I see that is all that professionals, staff, want for service users; recovery. A healthy, safe, and happy life.
2. There is no ‘place of safety’ in a crisis
‘Place of safety’ is a term coined by the Police when detaining someone under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. The Act deems that upon detaining someone, the Police take that person to a place deemed – under the Act - to be safe. It’s actually a very controversial topic in mental health with custody cells being used or Accident and Emergency when the person doesn’t need medical attention. I know that instinct tells us that hospitals are a safe place to be. That it’s where people are cared for. But admitting someone who has urges to self-harm won’t stop them from finding some way to do it. In my home environment, I only ever self-harmed through overdose or cutting; yet in Hospital? My vivid imagination was put to the test in the most saddening way. Even in a medical hospital – where the Accident and Emergency department is deemed to be the ‘appropriate safe place’ – there’s a chance a person can still self-harm. When I was very poorly and a regular attender of my local medical hospitals it wasn’t unheard of for rooms to be stripped of oxygen tubes and other leads and wires before I was allowed to go in!
3. No one knows who the ‘right’ person is in a crisis
Some family members say that they aren’t the professionals. Some Police say they aren’t trained and it’s not for them to deal with. Some Paramedics say they’re here for medical call-outs so it isn’t them. Some Social services staff think that since there’s Community Mental Health Teams it should be directed to them. Some of the Community Mental Health Teams say that they don’t have enough staff, so the responsibility falls with the Crisis Team. The Crisis Team ring for Police or Ambulance. Some Accident and Emergency Nurses believe it’s above their paygrade and it goes to a Doctor. Doctors call for Consultants. When you’re in such a vulnerable position as you are in a mental health crisis, one of the most destabilizing things to happen is to then have professionals be unsure on something. A crisis is terrifying and the last thing you need is for the people around you to be confused!