Monday, 23 May 2016

Mental Health & the Police

There is one thing that is very rarely talked about, and this is mental health and the police. I've never wanted to talk about it, because I felt ashamed that I'd even been involved with the police, because I always assumed that people would treat me differently, or even like a criminal. A lot of mentally unwell individuals end up being involved with the police. Before I started to become unwell, which started at around January 2015, I'd never been involved with the police before. I always thought that I'd never have to see them because of my mental health, but I couldn't have been more wrong!


The police can be called for a variety of reasons to do with your mental health. A few are:
running away; you may be a danger to yourself if you've run away and have mental health problems. the police will try and find you with the cars, but after a while, if you aren't found, they will get a helicopter and a police dog out.
crises; if you're having a serious mental health crisis, whether you're in the house or outside, the police may be called to try and calm you down. after that, they may contact the street triage team, take you to A&E, or section you.
if you refuse to go to A&E (& you need to); if for some reason an ambulance has been called, this may be due to self harm, an overdose or a suicide attempt, and you refuse to go, the police can be called. if you still refuse when the police arrive, they can forcefully take you to A&E.
if someone is really concerned about you; if a friend, family member or a member of the public is concerned for your welfare, they may ring the police to come and speak to you.

If you're in a public place and the police are concerned about you, they can detain you under section 136 of the Mental Health Act. This means they can take you to a place of safety; hospital, a 136 suite, or a police cell. You can be held for up to 72 hours, and you will be assessed by an AMPH (approved mental health professional) and two doctors. The AMPH will decide whether you need to be admitted to hospital or sent home. In some cases, the police can detain you under section 135 of the Mental Health Act, which is where you can be taken to a place of safety from a private property.

Unfortunately, not all police officers understand about mental health. I've gathered together two different people's experiences with the police, and also mine, which are shown below:

"The way people deal with you in a mental health crisis makes all the difference. Whether it's nurses, mental health professionals, or even the police. Well, mainly the police. I've had countless experiences with the police when in a crisis, normally when feeling suicidal. I've been dragged out my own home, dragged off sea walls, pinned down in hospital beds and so on. A lot of the time police are calm and understanding. They ask what's wrong and ask a couple of questions. Normally I'm then 136'd or if I've taken an overdose they take me to A&E. That's all good and well, when they deal with you like that. They are kind and considerate and do actually care. But sometimes you get the ones who really don't have a clue and push and shove and drag you about. I've been sworn at, shouted at, arrested for assault and wasting police time. When in actual fact when they looked into them both, I wasn't doing that at all. Some police need to learn how to handle mentally ill people in a crisis better, they need more training and guiding with what to do. Personally I'm always scared of the police as they have so much power over you, but honestly when you actually speak to them they are really kind people, they sometimes look beyond the role of being the police. You need kind and caring people to deal with you in a crisis."

"Suffice to say, police have saved my life on countless occasions. I do not think I would be alive today if the police had not got involved with me in times of mental health crises. Policing and mental illness has always been controversial. Not everyone thinks it helps. I can see when it doesn't, when there's an officer that doesn't understand, they think you're being attention seeking, or use excessive force to get you to do something. That can do more bad than good. I have friends who have been traumatised by their encounters with police whilst being ill. But I can think of more times, personally, when the police have been amazing with me. They have sat up all night in A&E with me whilst I've been sick, comforting me and keeping me safe from my own actions. Finding me lost and alone in the middle of a field and convincing me to reach out for help. Just coming round for a chat when someone's called them up, concerned for my welfare. I have been seconds from death and they have saved me so many times. I'll always be grateful for that. I do think police are needed at the moment for mental health patients. There isn't any other alternative out there at the moment."

"During my involvement with the police, I've met some lovely officers. Some have given me good advice, and I've even had 2 police officers visit me every week for a few weeks, just to see how I was. When I've been missing, officers have kept on texting me to try and calm me down, and convince me to reach out for help. Officers like this can be really helpful when you're in a mental health crisis - they make you feel as though someone actually cares. On the other hand, I've also met some police that aren't very nice, don't even try to understand, and make you feel as though you are wasting their time. The nicer police usually take their time to talk to you, to try and understand how you're feeling and what's happened to make you feel that way. I've been detained on a section 136 of the Mental Health Act twice. Both times, the officers I had with me were brilliant. I was told the second time that if I didn't walk in calmly, I'd be handcuffed, dragged in and put in a police cell until I was taken to the 136 suite. I liked how I was given the option, and it gave me time to think. However, some officers don't do this. There have been times where I've been told I'm an attention seeker and there are real emergencies out there. There have been times when I've been sworn at, restrained, thrown into police cars and arrested for wasting police time. Some police use excessive force, which can leave someone feeling traumatised. Police officers need more training in what to do if they are called out to an individual with mental health issues, as kindness can actually save someone's life. There have been times when police have saved my life, by coming out to find me when I've run off and attempted to take my own life. I will always be thankful to the police for helping me, however I'll never be able to forget my bad experiences with them."

The top 2 paragraphs were written by two 18 year old females, who both suffer from mental health problems and have been/currently are in mental health services, and the bottom one was written by me, As you can see, we've all had both good and bad experiences, which are different. I know there's a lot of bad stuff said about the police when they deal with mentally unwell people, and unfortunately it's true. Some officers just don't have the patience, and this can result in using excessive force, and generally making a person feel worse about themselves. However, the police aren't all bad, and there have been times when they've probably saved all 3 of our lives. I speak on behalf of the two other girls included in this post when I say we're all grateful for the nice police officers we've met. However, I think the bad experiences will always be embedded in our minds. Just a reminder of how the police aren't always nice and supportive when it comes to mental health.

So often we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to enjoy the journey. 

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Self Harm

Self harm always has been and probably always will be, one of those taboo subjects that everyone hates to talk about. It's always brushed off as nothing, until it escalates to the point where you're ending up in A&E. This is exactly what happened to me, when I first started doing it, everyone put it down as "typical teenage antics", and that it would go away soon. So I started believing it, I started to believe that it was nothing, and it was just a phase I was going through. But it wasn't a phase, self harm is never just a phase. If help isn't sought soon, it can escalate quickly.

This is the last time.
Everytime I would self harm, I'd tell myself this. But I knew I was lying, to myself and everyone around me. Excuses were becoming harder to come up with when people were asking how the cuts had happened. In the end, I just gave up. Self harm is extremely addictive, however some narrow minded people claim that it's done for attention. Not one bit. Most people that self harm try their best to hide it, and unless you're going around showing everyone, then it isn't done for attention. People use self harm for various reasons, but for me, the reasons are listed below:
A release; I needed to do something to cope with the emotional pain inside my head, because it was becoming extremely painful. Self harm became my coping mechanism, something I turned to when my head became too overwhelming.
I deserved it; I felt as though I deserved the pain because I was a bad person. I also felt like everything I came into contact with fell apart, so I felt as though I deserved to punish myself.
I needed to feel something; Sometimes I felt so numb and empty that I didn't feel anything, and it scared me. Self harming meant that I was feeling something, normally to remind me that I'm still alive.

I hate self harm with a burning passion, and I hate that I've let it get this far. If I could go back in time and stop my 13 year old self from doing it, then I really really would. But unfortunately, that's impossible. Every time I do it, I hate it so much. And I tell myself that next time, I'll try harder to fight the urge. It's true, I do try harder. Yet I still end up doing it, and it's now gotten to the point where I've been to A&E that many times to get my arms steri-stripped and bandaged that the psychiatric liaison team know who I am. My arms and legs went from having white scars, only a few of which were visible, to being covered in lumpy and pink scars. Yes, I know they'll fade, but they're always going to be visible. They're now constant reminders of how much I hated myself. Even in the future when I'm better, they're still going to be reminders of my past, and that's something I don't think I'll ever forgive myself for.

My battle with self harm has been long and hard. Sometimes I don't even try to fight the urge, because I don't feel strong enough. But other times, I physically sit on my hands until the urge subsides so I can't do anything. It's a daily struggle. If I go into a shop and buy a pencil sharpener, or razors, the first thing I think of is self harm. Whenever I see someone that has a scar or cut on their arm that's not from self harm, I automatically panic and think that they've self harmed. I can't go to certain places around my area without being reminded of the time I went there and self harmed. Everyday consists of triggers and urges, and I have to fight with myself day in, day out.

If I could give one piece of advice to anyone who self  harms, or who's  thinking about it, it would be this; get help as soon as possible.
Go to your GP, speak to your parents, speak to a teacher, speak to your school counsellor. If I had sought help earlier, then maybe it wouldn't have escalated to the point I'm at now. But the sooner you get help, the more likely you are to recover.

Self harm ruins so many lives, don't let it ruin yours.

I will win. Not immediately, but definitely.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Self soothing & distractions!

When I was in a psychiatric hospital a few months ago, the staff would constantly say to me, "use your distractions!", "try some self soothing", or "make sure to take care of yourself". Every time a staff member told me this, I wanted to scream at them, because I really thought they didn't work. When I'm not feeling very well, I hate self soothing and looking after myself, because I feel like I don't deserve it. As well as this, I also thought distractions were pointless; they don't exactly make things better, or make things go away, do they? It's only when I was discharged from hospital that I started to realise the importance of self soothing and distractions. They don't make mental illnesses go away, but they can help, even if they only make a tiny difference.

So why IS self soothing and distracting yourself important? 
How do they help someone with mental illness?

These are questions that I used to ask myself, and only now that I'm out of hospital have I come to find the answers. They're important life skills, and can help to aid recovery from mental illness. These techniques can be used whenever, whether you're feeling down/struggling, going through a crisis, or even if you're having a good day. In no way whatsoever do they make anything go away, however they can prevent a bad situation from getting even worse.

What are the benefits of self soothing and distractions?

1. You're doing something nice for yourself. So often when we're struggling or not feeling well, we feel like we don't deserve to do something nice for ourselves, or we forget to. Sometimes doing something nice for ourselves can help to lift our mood, even if it's only a tiny biit.

2. You're taking your mind off your current situation. Whether you're in a crisis or just struggling, using self soothing and distraction techniques can help you to forget about the situation you're in for a while. Even though it doesn't make the situation go away, taking your mind off it can sometimes help you to think of better ways to cope with it.

3. You're taking care of yourself. Mental illness can make us feel so low and tired at times, that we completely neglect our personal hygiene. With certain self soothing techniques, such as taking a bath, means you're taking care of yourself. Not only this, but it can help you to relax.

4. You're concentrating on the here and now. Sometimes we can be so caught up in worrying about things that have either happened in the past, or are happening in the future, whether it be a few days, weeks or months, that we forget to concentrate on the current moment. Carrying out self soothing or distraction techniques can help bring us back to the present moment. 

My self soothing & distraction box

For my 18th birthday, a close friend bought me a self soothe/distraction box, which she filled with different things that I can use. Over the days and weeks, I've been adding to it, and it's the first thing I go to when I know I need to look after myself, or use my distractions. It's good to have them all in one place, as it means I can just open the box and choose something, instead of having to look around and find something.

My box looks quite empty at the moment, as there's things I need to add into it, but here's a list of what I usually have in there:

Books; they help me concentrate on something other than my thoughts, and I can lose myself in a book and create a whole new world
Colouring books & pens; they can help distract me from my thoughts and bring me back into the present moment
Bath bombs, Lush bath stuff & Radox bath soak; I use these to self soothe and to make me feel nicer 
Coloured threads; when I'm feeling anxious and irritable, I use these to create bracelets, as it keeps my hands busy and serves as a distraction
Headphones; when the voices get too loud, I grab my headphones, plug them into my iPod, and put my music on as loud as I can stand it
Diary; when things become too much, I turn to my diary - writing has always been one of my main distractions!
Sketchbook, watercolour pads & paints; sketching and painting helps to distract myself from how I'm feeling, and you can never go wrong with art
Tangle toy; when I'm really anxious, having something to keep my hands busy really helps
Soft toy; when I need to feel something that's nice, I have a soft and cuddly toy owl that I hold in my hands or rub up and down my arms
Positive notebook; the day I was discharged from inpatient, some of the patients and staff wrote a positive message in a notebook I'd bought; when I feel down, I go and read through it and it can make me remember why I'm trying my hardest to fight mental illness 

Life is like a book. Some chapters are sad, some happy and some exciting, but if you never turn the next page you will never know what the next chapter holds.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

The darkest nights produce the brightest stars

At the start of February 2016, I was admitted to an adolescent psychiatric hospital.

Megan, we are formally detaining you under section 136 of the Mental Health Act.

I just remember the police officer telling me this, and I felt like my whole world had fallen apart. I was taken to a 136 suite in Alnmouth, Morpeth at 10pm. I felt and looked absolutely dreadful, and I was frightened. 1:30am came around, and the two psychiatrists and a AMHP arrived to assess me. One was an adult psychiatrist, and one was a CAMHS psychiatrist. They spoke to me, and after a while they all just looked at each other and nodded in mutual agreement.
Can you let us arrange an ambulance to take you to hospital?
I didn't really have a choice. Because of what had happened over the past week, I knew that if I didn't go as an informal patient, I'd most likely be sectioned. I had to give my all into recovery. I was taken to an adolescent psychiatric hospital in Middlesbrough, called the Newberry Centre at West Lane Hospital. I was transported by a transport ambulance, and I arrived at 3:45am. I'd heard so many horrible things about inpatient units, so I was terrified.

Arriving at the unit

When I arrived at the unit, we rang the doorbell and had to wait for the nurse in charge (NIC) to open it. Because I'd arrived quite late, it was quiet and the patients who weren't on leave were in bed. Me, the AMHP who came with me, and the ambulance driver got taken into one of the family rooms. It was a medium sized room, with comfy chairs. The AMHP explained why I was being admitted, and the NIC asked me a few questions, too. I met the two HCA's that were on nightshift, and one of them showed me around, before the NIC took me to my room. I got a few hours sleep before the on-call doctor came to properly admit me, to ask me some questions and to check my physical obs.

What to take

As my admission wasn't planned, I wasn't able to pack my own things. However, if you're admission is planned, then here's a list of things that you might want to take with you:
t-shirts (short & long sleeved); we had to have our arms covered if we self harmed
hoodies/jumpers; some units don't allow hoodies so ask beforehand!
jeans/leggings/jogger bottoms
dressing gown
shampoo & conditioner
shower gel
deodorant; my unit allowed sprays, but some units don't so it's best to ask
toothbrush & toothpaste
sanitary towels
razors; in my unit we had to keep all razors in our locked cupboards 
hairbrush, hair grips & bobbles
phone, music device (e.g. iPod) & headphones; my unit allowed these however some don't
colouring book & pens 
cuddly toys 
positive quotes; to stick on the wall 
stress ball, tangle toys
school work
lined/plain paper

The following day

The following morning the staff let me sleep in until dinner time, as it was a weekend and I was the only patient on the ward. I met two of the HCA's and one of the staff nurses, and they were lovely. As the patients started arriving back on the ward, I retreated back to my room. I can honestly say I don't think I've ever been so frightened. My mam came to visit, which just made me feel even worse, because I missed her loads. That day, I met my key nurse, and she was super lovely. She went through everything with me; the routine, who my consultant was, etc. My key nurse urged me to come out of my room, but I felt scared. I wasn't familiar with the routine, I hardly knew any of the staff and I'd only met one patient. After I'd had a shower, another patient came and got me, took me out of my room and into the night lounge to meet everyone else.

Daily routine

The structure of the routine became my rock. Before I was admitted, I lacked structure which contributed a lot to my mental illnesses. At around 8am, a nurse or healthcare assistant would wake you up, telling you to get ready for the morning meeting. If you were on meds, these would also be given to you. If you were like me, you'd get out of bed, get dressed and go and get breakfast. For some other patients, it was "get out of my room!", that was a regular occurrence! Breakfast was between 8am and 8:45am, whenever you managed to get out of bed really. The morning meeting happened at 8:45am in the day lounge. The nurses and HCA's would find me and a few other patients sat, raring to go. I mean, who didn't love getting out of bed to go to a morning meeting that either rarely happened if certain HCA's weren't in, or was late? Anyway, moving on! Education was between 9am and 3pm, with breaks in between. Well, that was the case for the Priory lot. For us few that were with Middlesbrough education, it hardly happened because they didn't bother turning up! On a Monday morning, there was DBT group. DBT group was basically all patients sat in a circle for 2 hours listening to the psychologist talk. On rare occasions, one of us would speak. At noon, it was lunch, which we'd often complain about. Even the kitchen staff complained about it! 1pm it was back to education, and at 3pm when it finished, you'd usually find us in the day lounge watching 1 of 3; Dance Moms, Impractical Jokers or Jeremy Kyle. Between 3pm and 5pm was free time, unless you had appointments with the psychologist, key nurse or nurse consultant, which happened once a week. 5pm was dinner, and there was always an evening activity. Then came the weekend, which meant home leave. Yippee!

My experience

For the month I was there, I had both good and bad memories. Patients came and went, some were in and out in a week or two, some got discharged just before I did, and some I had to leave behind. I became close to a lot of the patients, sometimes they were more helpful than the staff! We all had good memories playing pool, going out on trips, tie dying t-shirts, movie nights, and the list is endless. Despite this, we all had our bad times, which for me included breaking down to the staff and wanting to go home. I have to give it to the staff though, most of them were incredible and really knew how to cheer you up. Like the time there was me and 2 other patients on the ward on a Thursday night; most of the other young people had gone on home leave. One of the nurses and HCA's decided to get the tambourines out. Music time! No, definitely not. I didn't enjoy being chased down the corridor by them with tambourines. It was especially NOT fun when they decided to go outside and bang on the window of the room we were in. Safe to say it ended in a pillow fight! The first place the staff would go to check on me was either the sensory room, or the garden room. I pretty much spent most of my time in them rooms! Especially at night; at around 8pm me and another patient would sit in the garden room chatting and watching the clock, praying that there's good night staff on! Only because we wanted hot chocolates of course.

All in all, my experience in a psychiatric hospital wasn't necessarily a bad one. I met lovely staff, I made lifelong friends, some of whom I'm still in touch with now, and I learnt new skills that I still use now

What did I get from being in a psychiatric hospital?

1. I learnt valuable skills - distractions and mindfulness. Everytime the staff mentioned the word 'distraction' or 'mindful', I wanted to kill them. Mainly because at the time I couldn't see how they would help, but now that I'm out on my own in the world, I can see how useful they've become. In fact, they've become my lifesavers.
2. I met some incredible nurses and HCA's that really made me change my way of thinking. Especially my key nurse, who told me about the 3 Cs - choices, chapters and challenges. Everytime she mentioned it we'd both just burst out laughing. But honestly, those 3 Cs have stuck by me throughout my admission, and even now that I'm discharged.
3. I met patients that made me realise I'm not alone in my struggles. Before I got admitted, I felt so alone, and at times it felt like I was the only one going through it. But now? I realise that I'm not, and the patients really helped me on my journey to recovery.
4. Most importantly, I found myself. I didn't know who I was before this admission, I felt as though I was just going through the motions of life, and not really living. Although I still struggle now, I've found myself more thanks to this admission.

Remember you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.