This years theme for World Mental Health Day is dignity in mental health care. This is something I’m quite passionate about and have had such mixed experiences.
Having a mental health problem makes you vulnerable. When you’re in crisis or at rock bottom it’s hard to keep yourself safe. And that means safety from poor treatment by professionals too.
As someone who self harms I’ve had a large number of experiences in A&E, some of which left me feeling calmer and cared for, others which left me even more distressed. I’ve had some brilliant health care professionals in A&E who have gone out of their way to ensure I was treated well- the doctor who stitched my cuts so carefully and talked to me as a human being last year whilst I was in hospital, the doctor at another hospital who sat me in a side room with a 1:1 nurse and who came and persuaded me to stay the night rather than them having to call a mental health act assessment. He came after the end of his shift just to check I was okay. It was one of the most distressing nights of my life but he sticks in my head as someone who really cares about my welfare and dignity. I’ve also had some horrible A&E experiences- sent away after being told yes I needed stitches but because it was self harm I wouldn’t be stitched. Or being brought over in a wheelchair unable to walk and semi conscious after loosing too much blood only to be stitched and sent away- I remained unwell for the next few weeks before my GPs did a blood test and I was called in for a blood transfusion. Or the time they stitched me without adequate anaesthetic.
Then there’s dignity involved in being brought into hospital. This is a tricky one because I honestly believe there is no right way of doing this other than making it as least distressing and public as possible. When I was hospitalised for the third time the crisis team were visiting my and I refused to go into hospital with them. They told me that they would have to call 999 but I tried to run so they promised they wouldn’t. Next thing I knew the were four police officers and a paramedic banging on my door and coming into my flat. They were kind but there was no dignity in screaming and crying and finally being persuaded in a state to walk to the police care and be taken to hospital where I was later sectioned. It was humiliating, my flatmates had to see me screaming at the emergency services and everyone on the street outside and in A&E got a sideshow of me being half dragged into and out of the police car. But there was also no better way they could do it, I was too unwell and my health was at risk and I guess that’s the same with many incidences of being brought into hospital. But it certainly lacked dignity.
My biggest experience of dignity in mental health care has to be as an inpatient. I have such varied experiences. The hospital I was in last year had no concept of dignity. The ward wasn’t really designed with patient privacy in mind the beds were in a H shape with the communal area and nursing office in the middle. With the exception of wardroubd room there were no side rooms that could be used for private conversations or deescalation. At the time I was struggling with head banging and self harming but all the would simply happen would be I was restrained to the sofa with all the other patients watching and left in a crying heap with no option of talking to staff. I remember one night I was so distressed I couldn’t sleep and spent the entire night awake in the communal area but not once did a member of staff check on me. My current ward is much better. Even when I’ve ligatured and they’ve had to pull the alarm they always ensure there’s as few people present as possible. And when I’ve been restrained and injected they’ve always tried to talk my down first before using the injection. I did have one incident where I was face down strip searched and my knickers removed as part of that which left me very distressed especially with my history but I put in a complaint and it was upheld and the policy adjusted for when to use strip searches . The other times I’ve been face down restrained and injected although highly traumatic and undignified the staff have been kind and given me the opportunity to talk after.
Mental health is not dignified. I’ve been found in various states of undress after ligaturing with an item of clothing or vomited in front of staff when my ED was in control.I’ve spent three months showering and toileting in front of staff. My medication causes me to suffer from hyper salivation causing me to dribble a lot.
There’s little dignity in mental health crisis but with appropriate care and caring and supportive staff you can be treated with dignity and respect. Something I strongly believe improves recovery, when you feel you’re being treated with dignity it goes a way towards improving your self worth and ultimately self esteem. When you’re treated with no respect and dignity it destroys your feeling of self respect and self esteem. Dignity shouldn’t be something we’re surprised to find in mental health (and physical) care but something that is a given. But whilst it’s not we need to celebrate the staff who treat us with dignity and respect whilst educating those who don’t.