I often feel quite ashamed of my mental illness. It’s like by being so unwell for so many years I am less of a person than my peers who have degrees, careers, children, marriages and so on. I always feel embarrassed because I feel my life shouldn’t be like this, I shouldn’t be like this.
My mental illness has put me in situations that have made me feel shame, that have made me feel like a bad person. Claiming benefits made me feel awful, selfish, worthless. I felt like the scum of the earth but I was too poorly to work and needed money to survive. I never ever wanted to be in a position where I had to claim benefits. The night I spent in a police cell made me feel like a bad person. As nice as the police were to me, I was treated like a criminal. I had my belongings and shoes taken off of me, I was strip searched and then put in a cell for many hours. I felt like a criminal. I felt like the whole of society was looking down on me.
I feel extremely guilty for the pain I have put other people through. I have dragged family and friends through this nightmare with me. My dad hasn’t slept properly in 18 months, my mum has cried at her severely anorexic daughter. It’s not nice for me but it’s not nice for those around me who have to witness all this too.
I do feel like a bad person. I do hate myself. But I shouldn’t, having a mental illness does not make me a bad person or any less of a person. It just makes me ill. This is something I never chose to happen to me. My asthma doesn’t make me a bad person, yes it can inconvenience people when I’m having an attack but nobody thinks I’m an awful person because of it. I know there is a difference between physical illnesses and mental illnesses because mental illnesses can impact and influence someone’s behaviour. I feel like a terrible person for some of the text messages I have sent when I’ve been unwell, or for getting angry at my parents for what seems like no apparent reason. I feel like a terrible person when someone makes the effort to spend time with me and I can’t stay awake or I can barely utter a word. I hate myself when I can’t follow your conversation but what I need to learn is that it isn’t my fault.
Having a mental health problem doesn’t make you a bad personal, neither does it make you any less of a person. You are unwell and you had no choice over that. Don’t feel like you are a bad person over an illness that happened to you.
This morning I spoke on BBC Breakfast with Matthew Ellis, Staffordshire’s police and crime commissioner to talk about the use of cells as a place of safety for people suffering from mental illness.
A home affairs committee report has called for a change in the law so that cells are no longer deemed a ‘place of safety’ under the Mental Health Act. I spoke out about my experience of the night I spent in a cell due to a mental health crisis. I was not violent, I had not done anything wrong, I was unwell. You would not leave a physically ill person in a cell and in the care of police officers so why would you leave someone with a mental health problem in this situation? Mental illnesses are health problems requiring health care.
I hope by continually speaking out and raising awareness then change will happen. If we are to end the use of cells then we need to improve care. More beds are needed, there’s a lack of funding, a lack of staffing. We need changes not only in crisis care but in the little bit before crisis care when people are saying “Look I’m really not okay, I need some help” and are often brushed off or sent home and told to have a cup of tea. If we are to succeed in ending the use of cells, we need major improvements in our failing health care system.
You may have heard me talking on BBC Radio 5 live this morning after Norman Lamb, the care minister pledged to end locking up mentally ill people in cells in England.
I was 19 when I ended up in a police cell after depression and an eating disorder led me to a mental health crisis. It was college policy to phone the police and so the police were called. I had tried to get help, I had been to my GP and to my mental health team, it had reached a point where the police were the only option and that in itself is unacceptable.
The police arrived and tried to find a place of safety but all the S136 suites were full, there were no hospital beds to go to and with no other choice the police took me to a cell. I was strip searched, given ‘safety’ clothing and sat in a cell on a Friday night. I was terrified, ashamed, the memories of that night will never leave me. I mean, getting help should not be the traumatic part!
9-10 hours later I saw a doctor, the first health care professional I had seen, it was a medical/health emergency and I was given care by police for 10 hours, that is unacceptable. The doctor then organised for me to be transferred to an acute psychiatric ward.
I welcome Norman Lamb’s pledge, I will die a happy woman if I know that vulnerable and unwell people will no longer have to go through the trauma of being placed in a cell. I hope it is something that future generations will never have to go through. A mental health crisis is just that, a health problem which requires health care in a health care setting. The help that people receive should not be traumatic or damaging and people should be looked after by trained professionals who are able to care for the person as well as administer medication in an appropriate setting.
I am happy to hear that we are moving forward, that changes are being made. It is such an important issue. Although, I know that from personal experience there is still a lot wrong with crisis care. Crisis care is lacking in mental health services, they are under-funded and under-staffed and there is still an issue with beds. This needs to change urgently in order to avoid the use of cells and to provide good care for people who are desperately unwell.