Having A Mental Health Problem Doesn’t Make You A Bad Person

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.

BBC Breakfast Interview

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.


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.

The night I spent in a cell: a post for Mind

I have written a post for the Mind blog about my experience of spending a night in a police cell due to a mental health crisis. I feel this is very important right now as today is the crisis care concordat summit.

People suffering from a mental health crisis need care and compassion and to be treated with dignity and respect. It is so important to speak out and raise awareness so that hopefully one day people will be treated in an appropriate way during a mental health crisis. No one should ever spend a night in a cell for being unwell.

This really needs to change.


The Mind Media Awards 2014

Wow! What an inspirational night!

I have shared my experiences of mental ill health in the media, particularly focusing on my experiences of spending a night in a cell after being detained under Section 136 of The Mental Health Act. As a media volunteer for mind I was invited to the Mind Media Awards in London last night.

It was such an amazing, inspiring night and I am still buzzing, I truly believe that it is possible to make changes in attitudes towards mental health as well as treatment of mental illness. A highlight was seeing Michael Buchanan and Andy McNicoll win their much deserved award, particularly as I worked with Michael Buchanan on the S136 piece which, again, highlighted the bed crisis.

Last night showed how as a society we have come on leaps and bounds. It was the norm to be silent about these illnesses not so long ago but as more people are speaking out we are stamping out the stigma that exists. Imagine a world where no one has to be ashamed or hide away whilst their illness destroys them. Imagine a world where we treat each other with compassion instead of judgement. It’s possible.

TV programmes such as ‘My Mad Fat Diary’ and ‘The Dumping Ground’ are highlighting mental health problems in a more truthful light than ever before. The character suffering from a mental illness is not put into the script for comedy purposes. More importantly, programmes such as ‘Rugby League: State of Mind’ which target an audience that is often hard to reach and starts life saving conversations.

There were so many inspirational individuals and stories last night, 15 year old Ellen won an award for her amazing OCD blog and Deana Collins, Karen Bonsall, Mary Brailsford and Richard Ward won the Speaking Out award for their brave, persistent and life changing work.

Last night made me even more determined to continue speaking out and reaching out because change is possible. You might think that one voice won’t make a difference but it really, really can. I will not be silenced by my illness.

S136: The night I spent in a police cell despite never committing or being accused of committing a crime

It was a Friday night in January and I was sat in a police cell with a blanket wrapped around my shoulders, my shoes sitting outside the door and my belongings locked away. Was I caught stealing? No. Drunk and disorderly? No. I was in a mental health crisis and a risk to myself and only myself. There was no reason for me to be sat in a cold, dingy cell other than lack of hospital beds and ‘places of safety’.

At the time I was living on the border of Oxfordshire, if relocating to Wales taught me anything, it taught me that there really is a postcode lottery when it comes to mental health care. I feel the care and treatment I received in Oxfordshire was appalling. I had been frequently contacting my CMHT in crisis for months prior to this night. I had spent some time in hospital from the August-September after I had taken an overdose and I was discharged from hospital with no support and the reason for my discharge was not an improvement in my presentation but that they did not feel an admission was appropriate. I was studying for A levels at the time and I battled my way through the Autumn term. I was addicted to laxatives, very low in mood, restricting my intake, full of self hatred. I was in such a dark, lonely place. There would be times that I would miss my entire lesson sat in the bathroom in agonising pain from taking an enormous amount of laxatives. There were college days missed because I couldn’t get dressed due to horrendous body image. I would self harm several times a day just to ‘get through’. I began overdosing on an over the counter medication because it had a herbal base, it would leave me in a dreamy state where I would feel as if I were floating and the walls would move. I couldn’t tell the difference between what was a dream and what was reality. Sometimes the tablets would put me in a deep sleep for 1-2 days. I used it to escape because my mental illness was consuming me and my CMHT were letting me down hugely. On one occasion I phoned crisis team and was told that my psychiatrist had said that crisis team should not engage with me, imagine being told that when you are in crisis! In comparison to my team in Wales, the care I received back in Oxfordshire was shocking.

Back to January. I turned up to see my care coordinator from the CMHT, I was in a bad state, shaking and crying. I felt so done with fighting my battle and I actually got the guts to speak up and tell my care coordinator how bad things were. Her response? She mimicked my voice, repeated what I said back to me and then laughed. I was shocked, distraught and so I walked out. There was no point in me sitting there when she clearly was not going to help me.

The next day I went into college and told the college nurse how I was feeling, it was my last chance to get help, if she had not taken me seriously I do not know whether I would be sat here writing this now. The nurse followed the college policy and phoned the police, they detained me under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. This Section gives the police the power to take you to a ‘place of safety’ where you can be held for up to 72 hours. Often ‘a place of safety’ is a room in a psychiatric hospital, it will usually have a bed, a chair and a bathroom to the side of the room, a mental health nurse will usually sit with you until a Mental Health Act assessment can take place. On this occasion I was taken to a place of safety and agreed to a voluntary admission on an acute psychiatric ward.

Two weeks later, I was worried that I was getting fat because I could no longer spend hours a day on a cross trainer and I had no access to laxatives. My eating disorder was screaming at me and so I asked to leave the hospital and the staff said yes. I was not at all well, I came home and doubled my ‘usual’ dose of laxatives which resulted in nights spent vomiting and passing out from pain on top of the obvious side effect of overdosing on laxatives.

It was only days later when I was sat in the nurse’s room waiting for the police to arrive again. I realised my mistake in leaving the hospital and I was willing to go back. When I told the police this, they decided not to detain me under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act but instead they would contact the ward and my mental health team and try to arrange another voluntary admission. They were told that they could not do this which left them with no option but to detain me under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. They then proceeded to contact various hospitals with ‘places of safety’ but were unsuccessful in finding an available place. I remember when they broke the news to me that there was no option but to take me back to the police station. I remember grabbing the back of my head with my hands, curling up into a ball and sobbing partly with fear and partly with shame. I was an A grade student being marched through college with policemen to head off to a police cell, I felt so ashamed that I tried to hide my face with my hair and hands in an attempt not to be recognised by other students.

We arrived at the police station, and I was taken through to be checked in by the custody sergeant. I will never forget the fear and anxiety that I felt at that moment. Seeing the thick blue line and the signs telling me not to step beyond them, I was so afraid of being told off that I carefully put my feet up to the line. The sergeant asked me lots of questions but being quietly spoken he could not always hear my answer, he shouted at me to step forwards, which meant crossing the line. I was so frightened that I was doing things wrong.

I was shown to my cell and told to leave my shoes outside. Then I was strip searched. I cried the whole way through it, the officers were lovely and understanding but there is nothing that can make that experience okay. Admittedly I did have razor blades and laxatives hidden in my socks. After the strip search, the officers got me blankets, a hot drink and a book and an officer sat with me all night. I can not fault the police, it was not their fault that I ended up in a police cell and they were not happy with the hospital that this situation had happened. The police made sure I was safe and comfortable and really looked after me. However, this did not make the experience okay. It was a Friday night, if you have ever spent a Friday night in A&E then you have experienced an ounce of what I experienced that night. In my mental state I needed to be somewhere calm and relaxed but instead all I could hear were drunk criminals kicking off and shouting whilst being restrained. It was a night that I will never, ever forget. In the early hours of the morning I was assessed and then admitted to the acute psychiatric ward. If they would have admitted me when the police first phoned them then it would have saved a lot of painful, scary memories and I would not have had to experience something that no innocent, law abiding individual should experience.

I think that it is not acceptable for someone in a mental health crisis to be taken to a police cell, I was a risk to only myself. There would never be an occasion where someone who is physically unwell would be taken to a police cell due to lack of beds, so why is this allowed to happen with mental health?

I think it is important to also look at this from another angle. This was a Friday night, a busy night for the police and I was taking up a cell and an officer. It is the police’s responsibility to deal with criminals, they probably needed that cell and they definitely needed that officer and it is the mental health teams responsibility to provide care for their patients.