This is the second of two posts covering my experiences with health professionals and mental health services.
In my first post, I spoke about the good experiences I have had with mental health services. Although this should be standard and everyone should experience good care, the reality is that this isn’t always the case. I feel privileged to say that I’ve received treatment from individual practitioners who have honestly changed my life, and I wanted to recognise that by talking about those experiences. However, I, and unfortunately many others, have had ‘care’ that is far below what should be acceptable. Fortunately I didn’t let these occasions put me off continuing to seek and access support, but I know that it has had this impact on others and it really saddens me that people avoid reaching out for help based upon previous interactions with health professionals.
This is a difficult post to write coming from the position of being a mental health nurse, as I do feel a kinship with my colleagues and I understand the many pressures we face behind the scenes that can prevent us from offering the standard of care we would like to. But I’m not just a nurse. I’m a patient who has used mental health services for 14 years, and I can’t dismiss the more challenging and problematic experiences I’ve had as a patient because of my profession.
I spoke a lot about CAMHS in my first post about my positive experiences, and to be honest there is very little I could fault with the care I received over those 4 years, both in the community and in hospital. I was very lucky. I didn’t like the psychiatrist I had in the community at the time, but actually, in hindsight, she paid me home visits when I didn’t want to go to CAMHS and visited me when I was admitted to the general ward. I know she didn’t have to do that.
Eating Disorder Service
This is where my mental health journey got difficult. I waited months for an assessment from my local eating disorder team after my GP referral, and when I finally got one and it was agreed I needed treatment, I was then put on a waiting list. This was entirely normal and I was perfectly happy with that. However, I was on that waiting list for a year. During that time I didn’t receive a single phone call, either to check how I was or to update me with any movement on the waiting list and when it was likely I would be seen. I just sat in limbo trying desperately to keep myself afloat. Once I finally reached the top and was allocated a therapist, I was thrilled and desperate to get myself out of the situation I was in. I was motivated to recover. The therapy I had been allocated was CBT which I’d had before but didn’t find overly helpful. That didn’t put me off though and I was willing to throw myself into it.
Anyone in the world, eating disorder or not, knows that your weight can fluctuate day to day regardless of what you’ve eaten. It also happens sometimes where if you are increasing your intake from a very small amount, your metabolism kicks back in and you can actually see a little bit of weight loss before weight gain occurs. As an eating disorder therapist, I assumed she would be aware of this. For the first three weeks I went to therapy, I lost weight. I was actually eating more than I had in months, but I had only just increased my intake. Every session, I was accused of lying about how much I was eating or how much I was exercising, when in reality I was lying about neither. She also came to the conclusion that I thought fat people were not good people which was why I remained underweight which is inherently untrue and genuinely offensive to me – however she seemed to almost take it as a personal attack that I disagreed with her hypothesis. She then told me my life was empty. After that, I stopped going. I wrote a letter to the service saying that I didn’t feel they could offer me what I needed. Thankfully they reached out to me and offered me a new therapist, who I spoke about in my part one.
The first time I went to my GP about my relapse, she put me on antidepressants despite me saying I didn’t feel depressed, and referred me to the general community mental health team. They of course wrote back saying they weren’t the appropriate service and that I needed a referral to the eating disorder team. I thought this seemed obvious and was what I had asked for, but by choosing to go down a different route my referral was delayed by weeks.
When I was referred to the community mental health team for my bipolar assessment, I had to be referred out of area as I had recently had a placement in my local team. My GP wrote a cover letter explaining the situation and why I’d been referred there. This was seemingly ignored and they passed that referral on directly to my local team. I never heard anything from them as my GP contacted them to explain again, but I was still fairly mortified that it had happened.
It is my hope that experiences like these will reduce as we learn more. Aside from my first eating disorder therapist, who I genuinely feel was just a bad practitioner, the other things that have left a bad impression have generally just been down to ignorance or thoughtlessness and could very easily have been avoided.
I really try my very hardest not to make mistakes like this at work and I’m constantly writing myself lists to ensure I don’t miss anything. We are all human and make mistakes, but I’d be horrified to think that I’d caused someone else to have a bad experience. Whilst I am sad that any of the above situations occurred, I’m glad that I can use those experiences as examples of what not to do in my own practice.
I hope none of you have had any similar experiences. But if you have, I hope that they don’t stop you using services.
There are some phenomenal doctors and nurses out there, don’t give up on finding them!