There is no subject matter than I come across more frequently than that of mental health. Government consultation on the controversial section 135 & 136 is current. Having worked in the mental health sector and a previous service-user in the 80’s, I read todays views on it and it brings me nothing more than astonishment.
Personality disorder and multi-personality disorder became terms widely used in the mid-eighties. These terms were used to define those that did not require psychiatric treatment. Mild forms of schizophrenia or bi-polar were placed into “behavioural” grids in order to handle the “Care in the Community” scheme used to “house” those who were previously in the asylums. In the closing of asylums, or to be PC, psychiatric hospitals, a 100-year gagging order was in place as the much-maligned and money-making “suing culture” was about to explode onto the market. Who can fail to forget the hot coffee and suing of McDonalds headline story?
Having previously worked in a secure unit, later to be called a forensic unit, I have experienced first-hand the care received and all that is wrong about mental health care or the lack of it in these fractious modern times.
The demise of the mental health services in this country has presented itself over the last three decades. The cost of mental health care had to be cut dramatically. Duty of care was replaced with duty for the £. As we now see with the fragmentation of the NHS, care services are now outsourced to private enterprises. The prison healthcare system is a good example of this. The MoJ claims all prisoners have the same level of care as if they were to seek treatment in the community. Yet, block bed contracts are being sold to private healthcare companies. Research has shown that prisoners with acute mental health disorders are waiting, shockingly, in some cases, up to a year for transfer to hospital for treatment. What we see today is the fallout of the closure of asylums in the 80s and the introduction of community care. Of course, the slicing up of the NHS has to bear some accountability for this.
As far as I am concerned, there are far too many mental health diagnoses. Bi-polar is the modern- day term for manic depressive. Back in my day, manic depressive had a stigma attached. Now it is considered “fashionable” and “brave” It is an illness that needs serious and specialised treatment. However, the illness can be treated within the community. We know this. I have a family member who is treated successfully, lives independently and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Although it was a fight to get the services to engage with us over her care, we are now well-established and have made her safe, secure and as a “vulnerable adult” the police, the housing association and the local mental health team are all in partnership with us as a family to support her. We know of course, people such as Stephen Fry are living well, having great careers and have well-publicised mental health disorders.
As a previous patient of a psychiatric unit at the age of 21 and ongoing treatment for chronic depression, I was diagnosed with multi-personality disorder at the age of 25, I have over 30-years’ experience of mental health services. I was prescribed carbamazepine to control mood swings. I did not find it fashionable at all to be on this drug. I took this drug for four years. This is a drug that is used for anti-convulsions and has been used for epilepsy and other conditions. The drug did work and is no longer prescribed for personality-disordered conditions.
Back in the “old days” having a mental health disorder did not prevent me from working in the sector. Society today works on lessening the stigma associated with mental health disorders. We are more accepting of mental health today than we were three decades ago and far more aware of language used to describe people with mental health problems.
From my point of view, I am more alarmed and astonished at the lack of awareness and how fashionable mental health has become. This I am afraid, like everything else has become a money-making machine. There is a large difference between acute mental health disorders and the low-level mental health problems caused by modern living such as anxiety and depression that is treated in the community. The shock when a person commits suicide, as I have seen with friends who have ended their lives due to lack of treatment or of being heard is immense. But we have to get things into perspective. Acute diagnoses are being missed and what can only be described as low-level community-treated mental health problems are being mixed up as we look to have a mental health “blanket system” There is an acute shortage of beds in the system and has been for the last three decades. Until this is addressed, then I fear what we see now, is only going to become a bigger problem.