The Secret Life of Pets and Mental Illness

Living with a mental illness is horrible, it comes with really tough times, a lot of emotions and nasty side effects from both medication and talking therapies. By this I mean the pain of opening up your whole life to a therapist or the nausea and sedation from your new pills. Throughout my battle with mental illness my dog, Candy, has eased my distress no end.

When I was well enough to live at home being greeted by Candy’s wagging tail means the world. I am someone and I am wanted. When she cuddles into me whilst I cry it makes me feel less alone. Those difficult, dark hours through the night were made better by the dog I had sleeping beside me on my bed. I have stroked her under the chin and told her that I’m sorry when I’ve attempted to take my life and seeing her with her tail tucked in tells me she understands. Pets get it, perhaps more than humans do.

I have really missed being around animals since coming into hospital in 2015. It’s a real shame that animals aren’t allowed on the ward and therapy dogs don’t visit. I think it’d really help anyone in hospital regardless of whether they are there for a physical or mental health condition.

The other night my mental health team allowed me to do something special. I was allowed down to the entrance in a wheelchair to meet my parents and Candy. She was so excited to see me and she cuddled into me in my wheelchair and I instantly felt relaxed. My stresses and worries from the day disappeared slightly. I became mindful. All I was thinking about was the beautiful animal on my lap. I was 100% focused on stroking her coarse fur and running my fingers over her smooth ears. For me animals are magic. Pets bring humour, happiness, unconditional love and companionship and I dread to think of my life without Candy in it.

Making a Complaint

The complaint process is something I am currently going through and it has not been an easy ride. I was unsure of whether to complain at all because I didn’t want the hassle on top of everything else and neither did I want to make it awkward between me and the staff member I was making the complaint about. Then I realised that actually I matter and this matters. It’s important that the issue is raised and the staff member is educated otherwise her comments could haunt me for years to come. You are entitled to, and have a right to complain about the care you are given. If you would like to make a complaint about the care you have received then contact the service and ask for their complaints procedure.

Time To Talk Day

Today is Time To Talk day 2017 so take 5 minutes to talk about mental health. It is so important that we get these conversations going because they can save lives as well as working to stamp out stigma.

This Time To Talk day, I’m going to tell you a little bit about how I’m spending it. I’m currently in a general hospital being tube fed for my anorexia, I’m on 2:1 observations meaning I have two members of staff with me at all times and I’m on a level 4 which means I must be within arms length of the staff members, this includes when using the toilet. So there the facts about my situation but now it’s time to talk about how I feel.

I’m confused, recovery and weight restoration is being forced on me and I’m not sure that I want it. I’m scared about the future, my team are looking for a unit to send me to and so far none have accepted me. I don’t know what the near future holds for me. I’m homesick, I haven’t been home in 18 months and I would give anything to sit on the sofa with my family and dog and watch some rubbish telly. I feel alone and lost, I haven’t seen many people in the last 18 months and my grandmother has passed away during that time, I never got to say goodbye, I wasn’t well enough to go to her funeral and that breaks my heart everyday. I’m annoyed and angry at myself for losing out on so much. My goddaughter will be 3 in March and I’ve missed so much of her growing up, my dog is 14 and I’m scared she will die before I get home.

I have conversations about mental health every single day because I am unwell, but you don’t have to be ill to talk about mental health. We all have mental health, so please this Time To Talk Day 2017, take 5 minutes to ask someone how they are, send a text, natter over a cuppa, get the conversation going about mental health.

Happy Time To Talk Day everyone!

Section 3

I’m sitting on the end of my bed in hospital. Numb but in pain. I don’t understand anymore. Utter confusion. Dreaming of a future like a child, imagining I’ll be a vet or a teacher but seeing reality like an adult…I am just a psychiatric ward patient….I probably don’t even deserve the word ‘just’ in front of that. I’m a nothing, a no one. Three months locked away has completely detached me from the world around me. I belong nowhere and with no one. The world outside the window doesn’t feel like mine. It’s like I don’t remember what the rolling hills look like, nor the supermarket aisles or petrol stations. My ballet shoes disintegrated when my life turned into compost. Maybe new flowers will grow out of the soil but I doubt it. It feels like I’ll never feel the sun on my skin again and that my heart will never vibrate with the bass of loud music. Will I always be gone? Will I ever find me again?

A Letter To Those Who Deal With Mental Health Crises

Dear Police/Crisis teams/Nurses/Doctors/Healthcare workers,

I understand that many of you see mental health crises on a daily basis and I can understand that you probably become quite numb to the situation. I can imagine that seeing your first patient who is seriously contemplating suicide was probably very emotional and difficult for you but after seeing hundreds of patients who want to take their life you become so used to it that it becomes the same as walking to the shop and buying some milk

I understand that for some of you it is simply just your job and just your way of making ends meet but I also know that many of you are incredibly passionate and caring human beings and you want to help those people in need.

Whilst I know that you may become quite numb to your work, please try to put yourself in the patient’s shoes. In every patient’s shoes. They may just be another patient to you but it is this person’s entire life and if that person was found very distressed or mid-way through attempting to take their life then that is heartbreaking. Whilst you cannot get emotionally attached to each case that you come across, please think carefully about how you treat them.

When I am in a mental health crisis small talk becomes big talk. I’m often asked if I’m in education or have a job or if I aspire to. I can barely think, I can’t get my mind to form sentences and right at that moment my occupation is the least of my worries. If someone was in front of you having an asthma attack then you would ask about their breathing and so on, I doubt you’d start asking them if they have a job.

Be aware that the person in front of you probably doesn’t like themselves or their life very much and therefore may feel very sensitive or self-conscious. I tend to get comments on how I look very young or like a 12 year old and “I bet you don’t get served in a pub!” These comments are not helpful when I feel like I don’t want to be alive. I know that you are just trying to make conversation but sometimes when I’m poorly I don’t want these conversations.

Please try to look at each person in crisis as a ‘new person’ rather than ‘another person’. Try to imagine yourself in that person’s position. If you wanted to die would you want to discuss your employment? If you had anorexia would you want to be asked “Do you ever feel hungry?” and constantly offered a sandwich? If you were struggling with body dysmorphia would you want people to comment on your looks?

Finally, please realise that the care you provide to that person will be remembered. I have had triage nurses put me off going to A&E, I have the worry of ending up in a police cell again every time I reach crisis point and I’ve had very triggering and upsetting comments from mental health professionals that have left me feeling like it is easier to remain silent.

Please be the person that the patient remembers for outstanding care, please be the person that helps a poorly and vulnerable person and offers them an appropriate ear. Give hope and help at a time when that person really needs it because in that moment you are the one with the power to make a difference.

Many thanks in advance,

Claire Greaves

999 Mental Health Option

I’ve been thinking about this for years now, there should be a mental health option when phoning 999. There are many situations when a person who has mental illness needs urgent care, for example when someone is trying to take their life or when someone is very unwell with psychotic thoughts and an individual’s family don’t know what to do, but who do you phone? Is an ambulance the right service? Or the police? Do you want to phone the police on your daughter? All these thoughts that go through the minds of those who care for people who have a mental illness. In my opinion there isn’t a correct option for mental health when dialling 999, paramedics may be good at handling mental health problems but they are not trained specifically in mental health and again the police can often be caring and compassionate when helping someone with a mental illness but they are not trained. If a firefighter turned up to a cardiac arrest it wouldn’t be particularly helpful, they could probably help calm the situation but they probably couldn’t use a defibrillator.

There are crisis teams and home treatment teams dotted around in community mental health teams up and down the country but these are not the same as an emergency number. Often patients must be referred to these services and be on their books in order to use them which isn’t helpful. An initial crisis could occur as a result of having no mental health support, people have to already seek help for their crisis in order to be on the crisis team’s caseload so these services are not accessible to all. Another issue with these crisis teams are that they do not run 24/7. Some may run from 9am-9pm and others may only run 5pm-9pm. Not all crisis services run a 24 hour service and whilst you are often given an instant conversation, contact in person does not happen on an emergency basis. If you are in need of seeing someone urgently then crisis team will often turn to emergency services.

I think that when dialling 999 there should be a mental health option in which a mental health professional is urgently dispatched to the person in crisis. In a mental health crisis it is vital that the right support is received. The help should not be traumatic, we should not be handcuffing patients or putting them in cells but neither should we be leaving vulnerable people alone because we don’t know what to do or don’t have the resources to help. This is why it is vital that trained professionals are available in these urgent and often desperate moments. By having a mental health option when dialling 999 it will take the pressure and strain off of untrained professionals and other services and it will mean that those who are unwell get the correct treatment at the most vital time. It would save a lot of lives and a lot of trauma.