Monday, 11 April 2011

On The Assessment Ward

I was going through some of my papers at home and I found this unfinished account of my stay in the Mental Health Unit’s Assessment Unit following my suicide attempt in February 2010.  It was actually written while I was still in the Assessment Unit so the events were fresh in my mind at the time.  It is presented here for your consideration.

You’d think that people who are in the middle of a mental health crisis would be treated with a bit of respect and compassion and you’d be right…up until you’re transferred to the Mental Health Unit for assessment.  Suddenly, you become a prisoner with few, if any, human rights.  Your possessions are rifled through and you are put in a room and interrogated, albeit gently.

I had the dubious pleasure of being sent to the Mental Health Unit after I took an overdose on Friday 12th February although my first port of call was the Accident and Emergency Department where I may have been kept waiting for hours but I was always checked on and treated with a little common decency.  I was in and out of consciousness for most of Friday night, being brought around every so often to answer questions or have my blood pressure, pulse and temperature monitored.  I was also, to all intents and purposes, hallucinating wildly, sometimes coming around to find myself talking to people or reaching out for things that I could have sworn were there just seconds beforehand even though I knew that I had been unconscious.

I was transferred to another ward during the night but was only there for a short while before being transferred again to my final destination before the Mental Health Unit, Kingswood Ward.

Kingswood is a series of connected rooms with around four beds in each and I was in a room with three other men, the youngest of which couldn’t have been younger than fifty.  I was slowly spending less time unconscious and was thus able to get a better impression of the staff.  The nurses, overworked as most are, remained surprisingly cheerful and were very friendly with the patients which made for a pleasant atmosphere, something you really need when you’re stuck in an environment full of sick people with the beeps, buzzes and clicks of various machines.  The other support staff were of a similar disposition and it was a pleasure, if a stay in hospital can be called a pleasure, to stay in that ward.  However, just as I was settling into Kingswood, I was transferred to the Mental Health Unit.

It was here that the transformation of patient in crisis to prisoner took place.  I was bundled into a room where I was made to go through the questions I had already answered several times before – did I smoke, do drugs, drink alcohol, why did I try to kill myself? – giving the same answers each and every time.  I was taken to another room to have my blood pressure and pulse checked and my weight measured before going back to the first room to go through all the questions again, this time with a doctor.  The doctor then took me to the other room again to check my blood pressure before returning to the first room where I was left by myself for what seemed like hours.

When I was finally shown to my room, I was made to empty my bags and pockets and the contents scrutinised.  My dressing gown’s belt, my suitcase, my MP3 player and my deodorant were taken from me as contraband.  The whole process left me feeling violated and persecuted.  And to add insult to injury, once you’ve entered the Assessment Unit, you’re not allowed to leave, even for just a short walk accompanied by a member of staff.

So what kind of treatment do you receive?  In a word, none.  You end up just sitting in the combined dining and activity room, watching television with the other inmates, occasionally being called out to answer the same old questions.  The staff may be around but they don’t seem to be doing much in the way of observing the patients.

The only disruption to the constant watching of television are the meals and the talks with people who have obviously not read the copious notes that have been made by all the other people you’ve answered questions for, which is both a massive duplication of effort and extremely traumatic for the person in crisis.

© Myles Cook, 14/02/2010

As you can see, this account is unfinished and doesn’t cover some of the other points that it needs to, such as being locked out of your room during the day, the meals that were of a much lower quality than the one I got on Kingswood, the lack of activities suitable for male patients and the fact that the television is in a sealed cabinet on the wall making it impossible to change the channel.  I could go on but I won’t because, at some point, I will finish this account, either as part of a book or as a follow up to this column.

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