Mental health? Physical treatment

8 May

Mr Bump

I continue to find it striking that expectations in mental health care are so low and are measured in largely physical terms. Statistics are quoted for death rates, rather than full lives. The fact someone is alive is not proof of mental well being. The numbers of bodies alive on hospital beds or dead in morgues is a measure at the extremes and tells us little of people’s everyday lives managing mental health problems.

I am alive: hooray! But I am untreated, apart from drugs, nearly three years on. Three years is a lot of seconds. Three years of being parked on medication and welfare benefits, of experiencing troubling symptoms. Three years of not earning, of unfulfilled potential, of dependence on the whims of Atos and the Work Capability Assessment. Yet I’m seen as some sort of success story. Or, at least, not a failure.

If you go into hospital for something which is not life-threatening, the fact you are still alive some time later is not evidence of a successful intervention or treatment. If being alive is seen as success – especially where death was never on the cards (other than in the normal course of the aging process) – that is a sign of shockingly low expectations for people with mental health problems or the possibilities of mental health treatment. If all that is required of mental health services is to keep patients alive, why not stick us all in wards on drips in suspended animation? The effect would be largely the same as this suspended animation I feel I’m in at the moment.

It seems all that’s required of mental health services is to keep patients “safe” – which means safe from physical harm, whether to ourselves or others, or from others. Certainly not safe from mental harm – I say this as someone who came out of inpatient psychiatric “care” with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by my experience on ward. Certainly not treated or cured for mental distress, since there was no psychological help. Just drugs.

Once a week on ward we were weighed and measured, to keep track of physical markers. Was our mental well being assessed once a week? No. Never. On ward, there was a list of banned items (plastic bags, leads, alcoholic hand gel, bath plugs) which could be a risk to physical safety. But was there a list of things banned as potentially harmful to mental health? No. Instead, clearly mentally-harmful practices such as restraint, seclusion and forced medication were routine. And was there a list of required items for mental well being, nurture and support? No. Just four walls, locked doors, three (fibre-free but tasty) meals a day. “Safe”.

Six weeks ago, my psychiatrist promised “immediate” help. Nothing has materialised. Yesterday, my GP told me to up my drugs dose and wait. Waiting, existing, sedated, unable to function sufficiently to do anything other than shuffle to and from the shops and write in 140 characters. But at least I am alive. In a way. It’s a sort of life. A physical one. An existence. I live to exist another day. Job done.

It seems that, if a patient is physically “safe”, then the job of mental health services is done. Existence, so long as it’s “safe”, is success. Keep a patient “safe” – safe to exist another day – and the work of mental health services is done. Never mind what the person was before they became unwell, or could be in the future. So long as they are physically treated and physically safe.



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12 Responses to “Mental health? Physical treatment”

  1. kellyf2014 9 May 2014 at 10:19 am #

    A really insightful post. Have never thought of it in this way before. When you say you have been waiting for 3 years…do you mean for psychological intervention, because I have been waiting for 7 months (was only put on the waiting list last month which can be a 6month-1year wait), and it find that appalling!

  2. Cej 9 May 2014 at 10:26 am #

    Reblogged this on Confessions of a Mental Case and commented:
    Pretty much sums it all up!

  3. Rod 9 May 2014 at 11:21 am #

    Statistics are quoted for death rates? I thought for a moment the long-awaited mortality rates from 2011-12 for people with serious mental illness had at last been published. But no, it seems we’ll have to wait some more. The figures published in December and then mysteriously withdrawn were so bad that no one could possibly claim the system even keeps people physically safe.

    You’re right, of course. Suspended animation without treatment is a failure, a scam. I think we’re supposed to call it “recovery” in the current newspeak. It’s refreshing to see you expose the reality.

  4. Jo Furnival (@JoJofurnival) 9 May 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    Bloody brilliant blog post. I just can’t salute you enough for sharing your experiences and talking about the issue. ‘Taboo’ can go fuck itself.

  5. savemefrombpd 9 May 2014 at 5:58 pm #

    You bring up some major serious issues – Well done to you – I hope a lot of people read this blog post.

  6. Alex Dale 22 May 2014 at 5:31 pm #

    I found this really quite poignant. A beautiful piece of writing, and very important.

    I think even in the aftermath of being drugged (I’m off drugs at the moment) – Just living with the trauma of “treatment” and feeling like I’m stalled in a mental inertia is enough to make me feel like I’ve been moulded into a patient unwittingly.

  7. askygoneonfire 27 May 2014 at 1:19 am #

    An incisive post on the very real wrongs of mental health “treatment” in the UK. The failings are so stark – particularly in the way you lay them out here – it boggles the mind that nothing is changing, or has changed, in 30 years or more. That physical health checks do not assess or monitor mental wellbeing is hardly a revelation, but I can’t help but think it would be to mh professionals at the top of these institutions.

  8. mentalpoliticalparent 27 June 2014 at 5:24 pm #


    excellent piece, I’m sorry you’re having such a hard time too.


  9. Amanda 29 June 2014 at 3:11 pm #

    This is so, so true.


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