In April 2014, I was assessed in A&E under the Mental Health Act. I’d been depressed for a long time, but the descent was long and slow, until it reached the point where making plans seemed like a perfectly rational thing to do. Fortunately I had a good friend who knew it was absolutely not a rational thing to do, so she took me A&E with me protesting all the time that no one would believe it and it was a waste of time.
After being assessed by the MH liaison nurse, I was asked if I would go into hospital, but the only bed available was at The Priory in Manchester, a private hospital well over an hour’s drive from where I lived. I refused as I didn’t want to be so far away from home with no possessions and no means of my husband getting there, as he had our two small children to look after. In the end they decided not to detain me, but pass me over to the care of the local Crisis Team.
Like Crisis Teams all over the country, they are massively overstretched and a decision was taken to leave me in the care of the community team as I was seeing my psychiatrist the following afternoon. By mid-morning the following day, I was waiting on the platform of the station for the London express train, however, the same good friend as the day before had sent her husband speculatively to see if I was there. That was the near miss. If a local bed had been available the day before then I would’ve been in hospital, safe.
Thankfully this time there was a bed in Ridge Lea hospital in Lancaster and I was admitted and stayed there as an inpatient before the hospital was closed and all of the patients transferred to The Orchard, the new unit in Lancaster. I was in hospital for around 3 months.
The impact of my admission on my family was enormous. My son has autism and was extremely disrupted by my being away as it changed his routines. His autism meant that couldn't express how he felt easily, so he got cross every day. His home to school diary was filled with examples of him being upset by my absence and struggling in school. My young daughter didn’t remember the last time I’d been admitted as she’d been too young, but this time she was very aware and her behaviour became very difficult as she struggled to come to terms with my being in hospital. She became clingy to everyone else in the family and anxious that I would never come back.
The only thing that made it better for them was that I was still close by. My husband bought them up nearly every day after school and nursery and we got to spend time together, even though at the time it took monumental effort for me to be ‘normal’ with them. As I got better and had leave, I was able to go home to dinner, or do bedtime with them or all the small things that a parent does for a child. Sometimes this was more for their benefit than for mine as mental illness takes away some of the person you are, but to them it meant everything.
If I had been at a hospital miles away, none of that would have been possible. My children’s struggles would have been even harder. The visits would be more sporadic with long journeys to get to see me and the impact of my absence would have been amplified many times over. At the beginning, my only motivation to get through the day was the obligation I felt to see them. As I got better, that changed to wanting to see them as I missed them, till eventually I was discharged.
Even when they are unwell; mothers need to be near their children and children need to have regular contact with their mothers. Isolating me from my children would have caused distress on both sides, but now this is what would happen if I was admitted again.
Getting ill again already scares me as it has had a huge and lasting impact on my life emotionally and financially and has shaken my whole world. Now I have the additional fear that if I get ill, I will be taken away from my family, my friends and everyone who means anything to me. I will be ill, alone and isolated from the very people I need to support me to get well.
Closing The Orchard to women like me, may mean more near misses like mine as they are too scared to take help knowing they will be sent away. Speaking to other women in the community, I know I am not alone. Fear when you already have a mental illness is not good. Not good at all.