Norman Lamb: “Don’t stick mentally ill in cells”

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.