The Importance of Being Ernest #4

A week in hospital has been like placing Ernest in a sociological sweet shop with a months worth of pocket money. The mentally unwell, the fights, the nurses, the elderly – it’s all there, like a box of quality street waiting for Ernest to unwrap with his sociological analysis, each one a shiny coloured nugget of the distress of humanity.

Being placed on an observation ward is like being plonked right in the middle of every social class, gender, culture, ethnicity, age and mental state available. What was most interesting to me was the mentality of the patients and nurses. During a four day stay, six people were dragged in having overdosed or self harmed. Of these six people two were taken on to a mental institution instantly, the rest waited for a bed for several days, after which a psychiatric assessment revealed them to be of no threat to themselves and they were released from section and allowed home. Of course the six day wait for one bed clearly had nothing to do with the number of those patients sent home… however, it seems to be that anyone who has recently been in such a state of distress that they are willing to take their own lives is probably not in a great state of mind.

Speaking to one of these patients, a drug addict struggling with withdrawal who had overdosed several times, I realised just how dire the mental health system is. This woman knew the tricks of the trade, how to appear the exact level of normal in a psychiatric assessment, how to self harm in a ward and how to hide your tools. Yet she was deemed well enough to leave the hospital and resume a life she clearly could not cope with. Why is it that self harm is not enough? It appears that it is only when the extreme occurs that anyone is taken seriously and yet we wonder why we have such high rates of suicide? Why is it that a broken bone is worse than a hurt mind and that it takes a suicide attempt (athough only the right kind mind you!) for someone to listen? Why is a psychiatric assessment needed to decide if our own bodies are struggling? Who decides who is mad and who is sane?

Until we start listening to the mentally unwell, assume their minds are not broken but different and their voices have equal status to that of a psychiatrist, we will never create a system which serves the needs of mental health patients.

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