I am posting this partly as a rant and partly in the hope it will be picked up my a polly and something will be done about it. I intend to write to all candidates for all parties before the election outlining my concerns and experiences so something can be done. I don’t want sympathy from this post. I want something done. I’d appreciate it if I could get advice on how to best communicate my issues to pollies when I write to them (leaving it too late).
Before I go on , I would like to emphasise my gratitude and thanks to the nursing staff at both mental health wards as well as my former case manager Melina from Belconnen Mental Health. All the nursing staff as well as Melina did the best they could in impossible circumstances. In particular I’d like to thank Leigh, Ally, Kevin from Calvary and the male pommy nurse at TCH (forgotten his name). The police also did an amazing job in helping me but the overall mental health system was shocking.
I started last year as a happy 19 year old guy. Due to falling out with friends and a lost job my mental health went downhill very quickly. The end result was severe depression and a few psychotic episodes.
I had 4 visits to the psych ward in 2011. A brief outline of my stays:
- May – admitted to hospital after police came to check up on me and found me stabbing myself with a knife. 2 weeks stay in PSU (TCH).
June – missed numerous appointments and had gone AWOL. I was picked up by police who took me to the Mental Health Assessment Unit (MHAU) at TCH. This is basically the emergency room for mental health. I stayed overnight and was released the next day but had an altercation with a few police officers that night and spent the night in city watchhouse. I was then transferred to PSU for another 2 weeks stay. I have no recollection of the incident with the police at all. That night was blanked out from my memory and still is.
September – I had been close to 72 hours without sleep. I could not sleep due to me being unable to control my thoughts. I tried all the usual tactics – classical music, meditation, Simon & Garfunkel, yoga, sleeping tablets but nothing worked. I rung the CATT team at about 3 am on the 3rd night. The operator told me “If you try a bit harder I’m sure you’ll be fine.” I then overdosed on something (probably sleeping tablets but again, my memory is quite fuzzy) and ended up in TCH again. This was after punching a paramedic in the chin while he tried to help me (if you are reading this Mr Paramedic, please accept my apology. You deserve a lot better than that). When I got to TCH I spent a week under 24/7 guard in drug & alcohol ward then was transferred to PSU. In PSU I spent 1 week in the High Dependency Unit (HDU) then was put in LDU. After 2 weeks in LDU, I told my doctor (who I’d love to name but I don’t want RA getting sued) that I felt I was getting a lot better but I’d prefer another week or so in hospital as this would help me. He agreed and promised me he’d keep me in for as long as I wanted. The next day I was told to pack my things as I was being discharged. I asked the doctor why the sudden change of mind and he said I was fine and didn’t need to be in hospital.
I went back downhill about 4-5 days after being discharged and was taken to MHAU a few more times but was never admitted.
December – After another overdose, I was taken to Calvary Hospital. I stayed for 6 weeks which was longer than the nurses, doctors and social workers wanted me there but I was pretty much homeless so they couldn’t really release me. My stay in Calvary was excellent compared to my 3 visits to PSU. The nursing staff there would come around once – twice a day to talk. They’d leave me if I didn’t want to talk but would stay and talk to up to half an hour if I did want a chat. The food was (slightly) better and I was allowed to leave the ward at any time to go the gift shop/cafe. The PSU was almost a jail – all visitors were searched before entering, the TV was only allowed on between 4pm and 10pm on weekdays and 9am til 10pm weekends, and I wasn’t allowed my laptop or Ipod despite the fact I could lock my room. At Calvary, the TV was allowed on all day every day except between midnight and 7. The staff let me have laptop/ipod on the condition I accepted full responsibility for it (fair enough). And no one was searched on entering unless there was suspicion they were carrying drugs or something along those lines. The nurses at PSU were nice and tried to help but they were constantly dealing with duress alarms that went off every 45 seconds due to patients strangling each other, patients families threatening nurses/doctors and also the fact they were faulty. There seemed a ridiculous amount of paperwork as well.
I do understand that PSU has to be stricter as the patients there are a lot worse. And I do acknowledge that PSU has now closed and a new mental health ward has reopened. I have not seen the new ward and am unsure if it is any better (I hope I never have to find out). But PSU was a dark horrible place. One other patient who I was in with in me June stay told me that he found PSU to be a worse place than jail – he spent 2 years in a NSW jail on armed robbery and drugs charges. To me that signals a major problem.
The doctors in both hospitals did not appear to listen to me. In Calvary there was only 1 day where there was a doctor in the ward between Christmas Eve and New Years Day. I assume they had one on call but I am not certain of this.
After being eventually discharged from ward 2N from Calvary, I had a short stay in a few homes before moving into a home run by Mental Health Intensive Treatment Team Northside (MITT North). I am finally stable and am holding down a part time job. I live in a 3 bedroom house and I currently share with 1 other guy. I’ve been told to contact MITT if any problems occur. I get along with the guy I share with but we tend not to have much to do with each other. In the last week though his health has gone downhill. He has been hallucinating everyday – laughing his head off at strange hours, talking to himself much more than usual and writing random words on walls, tables and anything else he can find. Everytime the phone rings, he gets me to answer and to tell them he isn’t home. I am unsure who ‘them’ is but it would probably be mental health who call to check up every now and again. I haven’t thought much of it as he isn’t hurting anyone (he has never threatened me at all). But earlier today, he stood in the hall spraying air freshener into the hallway. When he finished, he got in his car and left. 10 minutes later he was back with a new can of air freshener and did the same thing in a different spot of the house. When he finished, he did the same thing. This happened 4 times in total. After the fourth time he collapsed into an armchair and started sleeping. The house does not have any ongoing cleanliness/smelly problems and I am now unable to leave my bedroom without slipping over slippery floors due to the air freshener.
I decided enough was enough and called MITT Team. There was no answer which I assume is due to the weekend. I called the CATT team who are pretty much useless but I figured I’d be better off telling them than nobody. Well it went straight to message bank. I wasn’t even put on hold, I was just told to leave a message. I left a brief message with a phone number and haven’t headr back (nearly 2 hours). I rung police but they said they can’t do anything unless he is hurting either himself or someone else. I fully understand this. It isn’t their job to be mental health workers.
The mental health system in the ACT is pathetic. All last year I had doctors (both inside and outside of hospital) that didn’t listen to me. I had counsellors tell me what they thought I wanted to hear. I had the CATT team continually fail me and only managed to stay alive through sheer luck and 1 friends total commitment to see me get better. But now, I have an after hours issue and can’t do anything about it for 48 hours. Having seen schizophrenic patients before, he could turn violent towards himself or someone else very quickly and I can’t get him the help he needs.This is the final straw. I have put up with a lousy system for over 12 months but when I can
Again, I would like to say a big thank you to Melina at Belconnen Mental Health. She was a fantastic case manager, checking up on me more when she felt I needed it but less when I was doing better (and she always knew how I was). The nursing staff at both hospitals were fantastic to me and other patients but the doctors and psychologists were lousy. The system was underfunded and understaffed (especially at PSU). Ward 2N at Calvary was a nice visit. I honestly think if they tried to replicate the way 2N is run to PSU at TCH, it would be a much better place for staff and patients. I understand it has to be more high security for some but not everyone needs that high security. I really do hope the new Mental Health Ward at TCH has allowed this to happen.
Finally as I post this, my flatmate is now pouring a bottle of shampoo down the sink. He is obviously more bananas than Phillip Pocock. But there is nothing I can do to help him.