Trigger Warning // sectioning, restraint, forced medication.
This blog by Catherine is a personal account of being held in inpatient care and talks frankly about sectioning, restraining and forced medication.
We regularly hear stories from people about their experiences of being in mental health services, some of which have been completely unacceptable. Examples of these stories seem to be appearing more frequently in the media too.
We won’t stop until we have a mental health system that truly cares for people living with mental illness. For many years we have lobbied for the reform of the Mental Health Act to improve the experiences of people who are detained. But we know much more that needs to be done. We’re lobbying the government to take swift action to improve patient safety which you can read about here.
Sharing stories can truly make a difference in this fight. While not all experiences of inpatient settings are negative, it’s important to show the realities of the system’s failings to improve it. That’s why we are sharing Catherine’s harrowing ordeal below.
Catherine’s experiences are distressing and include examples of abuse – please do take care when reading this, and if you would like practical support, you can contact our Advice and Information Service on 0808 801 0525, and immediate support is available from the organisations listed at the end of her story.
Catherine told us:
"In March 2022, I was admitted to an acute psychiatric ward where I remained for almost six months. I was admitted to hospital on five separate occasions and detained under the Mental Health Act four times, in the space of just two months. From the beginning, it felt like there was no plan. I knew I wasn’t in hospital to be helped, just held.
One of the things I remember the most is the claustrophobia. There were times when I was locked in my room for days on end. I wasn’t allowed to leave my room for meals, I wasn’t allowed to go outside. At times, I wasn’t even allowed to open my window.
I remember the loneliness. I was told that if I didn’t comply to the ward’s ‘treatment’, I wouldn’t be allowed to see my mum. This threat was seen through numerous times. Although I was being watched 24/7, I’d go for days without having a single conversation. I’d listen to people talk about me outside my open door as if I wasn’t there, as if I wasn’t a real person anymore.
Being in hospital is really surreal; an unnatural environment where every situation has the potential to become volatile. We were being kept on an acute ward, intended to hold people only for assessment, and there was no capacity to offer people treatment. Some of the other patients had been held here for years.
I noticed a massive power imbalance between doctors and detained patients. I witnessed patients being humiliated publicly by staff. On more than one occasion, staff restrained and sedated a patient, then left them lying in the corridor unable to move for several hours.
I was afraid of my consultant, who’d periodically lash out, yell at or humiliate me in front of everyone. She called me an attention seeker; made me feel degraded and ashamed. She said, “girls like me waste her time”; that “we’re all the same”. I was too afraid to appeal her decision to detain me, even though I believed she was wrong. When my detention was extended, however, I was forced to go to a tribunal.
"Despite being vulnerable and unwell, I had to listen to a room full of strangers discuss the intricacies of my life, whilst I just stood by."
I didn’t have capacity, deserve any rights or freedom. Decisions were being made before I could even open my mouth. Because I was detained, I had no credibility. There was no reason for anyone to listen to me.
I was constantly terrified I’d do something wrong to end up being restrained. I noticed members of staff were very quick to use force, and situations that could have been managed differently escalated very fast. One time, I was restrained simply because a specific staff member didn’t like where I was standing.
I want to explain how it felt to be restrained. The terror of being cornered, surrounded by as many as four or five strangers. Feeling their sweat on my body as they lay on top of me, pinning my face down to the hard, dirty floor. Of being thrown to the ground with enough force that I’d have bruises the next day. Forcing me down, even as I pleaded with them to stop because of the pain. Sometimes, this would go on for hours. On more than one occasion, a member of staff turned to me and said: “you wanted this to happen, you enjoy this”.
It feels so violating to have strangers pull your clothes off, to inject you with a drug you don’t want. Even as you desperately try to explain, to convince them that you haven’t done anything wrong. I remember feeling hopeless when I was face-down on the floor, trying to fight a drug that was inevitably stronger than me. A drug that would keep me quiet for the next few hours. I felt trapped. My opinions no longer mattered. My feelings no longer mattered. My boundaries no longer mattered. It felt like I no longer mattered.
"And now I feel angry. I feel angry that I’m supposed to be grateful for this so-called ‘treatment’. That this was supposedly ‘necessary’ and ‘saved my life’; that all of these dehumanising things were done for my own good."
Because to me, that’s just one step away from saying I deserved it. That for the crime of being mentally unwell, I deserved to be humiliated, hurt and even physically punished. That I was asking for it.
After months of pleading with the doctors, I was finally allowed to leave. Once I walked out of hospital for the last time, it was like a weight was lifted off me. When you’re in hospital, it’s so hard not to feel hopeless. It’s easy to forget that the real world and other people still exist. In hospital, I felt like there was no point in being alive. Yet now I feel hopeful.
I hope to use my experience to push for change in the way that detained patients are treated. I believe the system, as it stands, is incredibly dangerous. I believe vulnerable people are being mistreated and are unable to advocate for themselves. I think it’s wrong that people are being held for years in places that aren’t equipped to help them. I feel so grateful that I had my mum advocating for me when I couldn’t. There are many people who aren’t so lucky."
Have you had similar experiences that you would like to share on our media channels? Or have you had better experiences of mental health services that you would like to tell us about? If so, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
We also hold involvement and co-production sessions in small groups where people share their lived experiences, views and opinions to help make decisions on how we should influence change. Please keep an eye on these pages of our website for these opportunities.
A stock photo has been used on this blog to protect the author.
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