Mental health trusts and hospitals are supposed to be safe havens. Yes, their resources are strained and understaffed, and although some people have to wait years to receive treatment, and even when they do, it may be hundreds of miles away, fundamentally they are places of support. However, for many of the most vulnerable in our society, these places of restraint, isolation, and abuse.
The first point of criticism is the 1983 Mental Health Act, in particular the articles relating to sectioning. According to campaigners, its power being abused to the detriment of patients. Indeed, when Theresa May set up an independent review of the Act last October, it was found that mental health facilities were some of the most dilapidated in the NHS. Therefore, they concluded that it ‘could be traumatic ans damaging to be held under the Act.’ Sadly, upon investigating the situation, the more you know, the worse it gets. Worst of all, people have been speaking out for a long time. They just haven’t been listened to.
In 2017, The Times reported that the abuse of mental health patients had jumped by 88% since 2015. Moreover, the NHS England figures demonstrated that services had received thousands of complaints relating to care. Moreover, in September, The Guardian stipulated that ‘sexual abuse is rife in Mental Health units.’ Apparently, there were over 60,000 counts of sexual incidents between April – June 2017 involving patients, staff and visitors. And more than two-thirds of victims were patients. Although statistics show the quantitative side, they can sometimes make us forget that these are real people’s lives being discussed.
Kate King, 56, spoke to the BBC about her experience of being in and out of hospitals for seven years after being admitted in 2004 following a period of post-natal depression. She described what she saw:
- Patients ‘being aggressive and swearing at her, with one even stalking her.’
- Being ‘restrained face down on a mattress. One nurse even told me I should kill myself,” she said.’
- ‘When I tried to object or complain, I was not listened to. There was good care too – I remember once being taken go-karting. But my experiences left me anxious and suicidal.’
Nevertheless, change and reform is, hopefully, going to happen. Theresa May has promised that new legislation will put before parliament at the beginning of 2019. Harking back to her promises in 2017 to ‘tackle the burning injustices’ in the system, she stated:
I commissioned this review because I was determined to make sure those suffering from mental health issues are treated with dignity and respect, with their liberty and autonomy respected….By bringing forward this historic legislation – the new Mental Health Bill we can ensure people are in control of their care, and are receiving the right treatment and support they need.
My optimism about Mrs May’s promises are quite jaded from her constant U-turning, saying a lot and doing very little, and let’s not forget the Cathy incident – however I might be wrong.
And anyway, it’s about people not politics.