Sunday, September 17, 2006

It could be you

This article in the Observer today , highlights a subject which spends most of its life brushed under a dusty carpet, only seeing the light of day on rare occasions like this. There are people who work tirelessly to bring the scandal of the mental health services in this country into the public eye. There are others who do everything they can to break the stigma of mental health and try to make us aware of how common it is. 1 in 4 is a statistic which pops up again and again. 1 in 4 of us, at some time in our lives will suffer from some kind of mental illness. This powerful statistic should, I always think, start to wake people up to the fact that it could be them. But, as always in this world, it is the fear of the unknown which terrifies people most. Victorian asylums with darkened corridors and unkempt nutters is a vision which appears in people's minds, ‘that will never be me’ they think.

I, on the other hand, am fully aware that it could easily be me. Only 2 nights ago I had a dream that I was sectioned. I have had a terrible week. A combination of the 9/11 anniversary and halving my does of anti depressants (for a month now). The reduced dose is beginning to kick in, and I feel like I am losing my mind. My dream was both upsetting and disturbing, but rarely for a dream, it was probably surprisingly accurate. I remember arriving at a grimy hospital, the airlock security doors closing behind me, and being left. I was given no introduction, no explanation, not even a room. I was left to wander, confused and helpless through the corridors of the ward, without even being told when I would eat. I remember thinking that surely I was coming here to get better. How was I going to get better if no-one even spoke to me? I fear that my dream was not too far off the mark. Too many people are locked up, drugged up and forgotten about. Friends, relatives, police and health professionals send people to these places trusting they are doing the right thing. Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t.

After many disastrous stays in hospital, my friend has finally found somewhere which has actually treated him . After 4 years of being locked up he spent his first night out, in a supervised hostel on Thursday. He will spend every Thursday there for the next few weeks and on 6 November he will permanently move in. It’s a fantastic step forward for him and I am so proud of how far he has come . On Thursday we went for a drink, ate burger and chips and spectacularly lost (despite my best attempts at cheating) the local pub quiz. I could already sense a new confidence about him, a sense that he was soon to be free. He would not have got here without his current doctor and psychologist, but it has been a rocky road and it is only the luck of the draw.

When he was sectioned and arrested 4 years ago, he was unrecognisable as the man you see today. He had been let down from every corner, each blaming the other. He spent a day in a cell at the police station, haunted and injured. I have never seen a man so vulnerable, and mad. They searched high and low for a hospital bed, but not a single one was to be found. That night he was shipped off to Pentonville Prison, there was no where else with any space. He spent 4 weeks there over Christmas, he was given no treatment, no medication, he was a very sick man in need of urgent help and he was left to deteriorate in prison for a month before a bed became available. It was a disgraceful way to treat a human being, I remember never having felt such despair.

It is time that this stopped, time that more, not less, money was given to the departments to treat these people who are as deserving as cancer sufferers. It is time that we all woke up to the fact that it really could be you. I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone, but the way we live our lives these days, we are all on the edge, all as likely as the next to go at any moment. My money is on Tony Blair being next.