I want to talk firstly about the positive experiences I’ve had. I feel like we read so much about how terrible mental health services are, and as a mental health nurse, I find those stories upsetting for a number of reasons. I understand that people have had terrible experiences – I myself have had some less than satisfying interactions with health professionals, mental health or otherwise. But I see the other side of it too, and I’ve watched as myself and my colleagues have burnt out through exhaustion and despair at not being able to help everyone to the standard we would want to for various reasons; lack of funding, lack of staff, lack of resources. I’ve seen people I work with work themselves to the point their own mental health suffers as a result. I feel deeply disappointed that our services can cause people to feel alone, ignored and hurt; when this is the opposite of everything we want to achieve.
I wanted to talk about the good experiences I have had to provide some balance – it worries me that the overwhelmingly negative coverage of mental health services might scare people off using them altogether.
My first positive experience goes back 13 years, when I was admitted to the general hospital. I was in absolute crisis and had no idea how to get myself out of the situation I was in. I was told I was going to be admitted to a psychiatric ward once a bed was available. So I sat on the hospital ward surrounded by crying babies and anxious parents, waiting to hear where I would be going, feeling like a failure. The most wonderful nurse on the ward – I wish I could remember his name (Paul maybe?) – came round to see me every day and spend time with me, telling me jokes and making me laugh, giving me food he thought I might try to eat, and fortisips when he realised I couldn’t.
Thankfully I was found a bed locally, which I know is a luxury many, many children and families don’t get. I was terrified and had absolutely no idea what to expect. I can say, hand on heart, that almost everyone that worked in that hospital was brilliant. In particular, I had a wonderful primary nurse, a support worker who is now a great friend of mine, and a brilliant occupational therapist. They, among others that cared for me there, made a huge impact on my life.
Eating Disorders Service
I was discharged from CAMHS at 18 rather than being transitioned to adult mental health services. As an adult, I was referred to the Community Eating Disorder Service. My second therapist I had there was brilliant. He listened to me and invested time in trying to understand me, when I barely understood myself at all. He encouraged me the right amount whilst making sure that I took responsibility for my own recovery. I wrote him a thank you card when I left – he made such a difference to my recovery journey.
After I realised my mood was still unpredictable long after I established a healthy eating pattern, I visited my GP. I had only met her once before, but she’d taken the time to learn my name and understand what had been going on for me over the last few years. She referred me to the Community Mental Health Team straight away, and said that if I had any problems in the mean time I could call her and get an urgent appointment.
A few weeks after my initial appointment with the CMHT, I had a manic episode. I wrote my GP a letter in a frenzy and delivered it to the surgery in the middle of the night. She called me back the next day and arranged an appointment to see me the following morning. I was so grateful that she’d made time for me. She made an urgent referral back to the CMHT and I’m fairly sure she did this well into her own time, after she was supposed to have gone home. She left the surgery a couple of years ago and I was so sad about it; I’ve never had a GP who has been so invested in my mental (or physical) health. I also wrote her a thank you card and posted it to the GP surgery before she left – she made sure that I got the right support when I needed it without question. To my complete surprise, she phoned me on her last day to say thank you which I thought was such a lovely thing to do.
I was allocated a psychiatrist the first time my GP referred me to the CMHT. He spent a long time doing my assessment, and eventually decided he couldn’t formally diagnose bipolar disorder at that time as I hadn’t presented in an acute stage of my illness. Although it may seem like this was a negative experience, he explained that medication generally used for bipolar disorder was not something that should be carelessly prescribed because of the many difficult side effects. As a mental health nurse who has worked for years in services that prescribe many of these medications such as lithium and antipsychotics, I understood what he was saying.
The second time I saw him was after my urgent referral. He agreed that they now had enough evidence to make a formal diagnosis. We discussed medication in depth for a long time, but he ultimately gave me complete control over what I would be prescribed. We talked a lot about how some of the medications I was offered could cause weight gain. I was around 2 years into recovery from anorexia at that time, which I realise sounds like a lot, but is still quite early days. Overall, I felt that the pros of one of the medications offered outweighed the cons and felt that I could control any potential weight gain. This turned out not be true, and when I went back for a review with him, completely distraught that I had gained weight above my set point, he agreed straight away we could try something else. I got more unpleasant side effects, so on my next review he agreed we could try something different again. He was clear that we could keep trying until we got it right, and I never felt that I was being bothersome. Thankfully (third time’s a charm), I found the right match for me. I stayed under his clinic for a year, and he discharged me back to my GP once we both agreed my mental health was stable. I always felt like an equal in any conversations about my choices with him, which is so important as there is often a huge power imbalance between mental health professionals and patients.
I am not trying to invalidate anybody’s difficult experiences by talking about the positive ones I have had. The second part of this post that will come out in the future will talk about the disappointing and poor care I have encountered in my mental health journey. But as I said earlier – it’s so important that we recognise the good that services can do and the positive impact this can have.
I’d love to hear about any of your positive experiences in health care regarding your mental health – drop me a line or let me know in the comments.