Wednesday 8 February 2017

When the mental health professionals let you and your child down

On Monday I flicked on the TV and began to watch BBC's Panorama - Revealed: Britain's Mental Health Crisis which was about "the troubled state of NHS mental health services", the "deteriorating national picture for mental health care funding" and "new figures that show a shocking increase in unexpected deaths of mental health patients".

After just a few minutes, I had to switch off.

I was in tears.

I was in tears at the profound grief of that mother as she visited the flat where her adult son (who suffered from schizophrenia) had killed himself. This was just four days after the event. My heart was right there with her, feeling for her grief and helpless anger as she explained how her son's therapists felt that he wasn't a danger to himself.

But she knew better. She was his mum after all. And no-one knows their child better than a parent.

So when the news came through that her son had committed suicide, she wasn't surprised.

Like so many parents who live with a mental illness in the family, she'd come to expect it.

As a parent you undergo a kind of hellish paradigm shift where your mind clunks down to a new, deep and darker level where you begin to prepare yourself to "accept" that it is no longer a case of "if" but "when".

Yet NHS mental health services term these deaths as "unexpected".

We wouldn't call them that; we'd call them "expected".

From the very first day I took my son to see our GP (September 2009) until his discharge from Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services in March 2012, I never once felt that I could trust the mental health professionals to keep him safe.

And, as his eating disorder grew worse and his moods, behaviour and weight headed further downhill, this mistrust grew even stronger.

My gut instinct and primeval need to protect my one and only child screamed out that the treatment model he was receiving was making him worse, not better.

Yet the treatment team seemed happy with my son's "progress".

But all I saw was a young man who was losing more and more weight and whose moods were getting increasingly volatile and violent.

I was with him 24/7; the eating disorder treatment team only saw him for 60 minutes a week - or less, as was the case during the summer of 2010 when there were big gaps while the therapists took their annual leave.

That summer my son threatened suicide on almost a daily basis. It was during this summer that he began to behave even more dangerously, like the day he attempted to climb onto our house roof through the attic window.

I managed to pull him back, just in time.

After that - and other threats and dangerous behaviour - I went round the house, hoovering up window keys, medication, knives, wires... hiding them where he wouldn't be able to find them.

I began to look at ordinary places and objects in a completely different and altogether terrifying light.

On one exceptionally distressing occasion I was so frightened by my son's threats that I telephoned CAMHS. Because our psychiatrist wasn't there, I was put through to the Duty Psychiatrist. Distraught and desperate, I asked her what I should do?

Her response was - and I will never, ever forget it: "We are not a 24-hour emergency service."

I was told to take him to A&E.

But of course I couldn't get my son to A&E. He is taller than me, and stronger - and the eating disorder seemed to make him stronger still. And with it came threats of what he would do if I tried to get someone round to the house to help.

Good God, one time I couldn't even stop him from fighting the window keys off me (thankfully a downstairs window on this occasion). He pushed me violently aside, climbed out and disappeared.

As on many occasions, I wasn't sure if he would ever come back.

Monday's Panorama Revealed: Britain's Mental Health Crisis - or at least the little bit I did see - reinforced that there must be so many other parents out there who simply don't trust the mental health professionals and who feel that they are going against our gut instincts as parents.

Yet, unless we can afford to pay a king's ransom for private treatment (and who's to say that would be any different?), we have no option but to continue with NHS mental health services.

If indeed it is offered at all.

And when it's withdrawn, whether because of funding or because the NHS believes the patient is no longer a danger to themselves, what can so often happen next doesn't surprise us parents.

My heart went out for that mother and parents like her who have been let down on such an epic scale and have lost a much-loved child.

It was so very much a case of "there but for the grace of God...."

1 comment:

  1. I know everyone hates doing it,but if you are concerned for your child's safety either in the house, or especially if they leave, call the police. They will tell you that that is one of the things they are there for, keeping people safe.