Demand to change the mental health system and psychiatric hospitals

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My name is Chloe, for the past 7 years my 20 year old sister has been detained under the mental health act and has been a patient in 14 hospitals up and down the country. We have spent every weekend for the last 7 years travelling sometimes up to 10 hours in one day to be given just 1 hour with her. 

My sister has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome which is a type of autism, she has the mental capacity of someone much younger. She has also received many mental illness diagnoses including schizoaffective disorder which she presently suffers with. She has had dozens of suicide attempts. 

The hospitals she has been a patient at have on the whole been inadequate. She has been in hospitals where she has only been fed bread and water at times. She has been in hospitals where they have denied her sanitary wear and then refused to let her shower after she has bled on herself. 

In the summer of 2018 she moved to a hospital in York. Despite that she had been on a section for around 7 years and had presented extreme psychosis, self harm and many other issues, the doctor at this hospital decided that he didn’t believe she was mentally unwell and explained he wanted to take her off her section. They allowed her to leave the unit as and when she wanted to, for the previous years she had been secluded in isolation at many of the hospitals with very restrictive preventions on when she was allowed leave, if she was granted it. On her leaves she would go missing, self harm, do drugs given to her by other patients and attempt suicide. The doctor insisted that she was not unwell and that she would officially be made homeless as of a certain date. We were unable to have her live at home due to my 9 year old brother living here, we were told by york council that if we accepted her back home they would have to remove my brother from the environment as it would create a safe guarding issue. This put my family under immense stress. No parent should have to choose to put their 20 year old autistic, extremely mentally unwell and vulnerable daughter on the streets or hand their 9 year old over to social services. 

As the discharge date grew closer my sister locked herself inside her room and started a small fire with the intent to end her life as she was so scared to become homeless. When she was arrested the police didn’t know where to take her, it would be unlawful to put her in prison as she hadn’t been charged but the hospital refused to allow her to stay there. After the fire she was understandably extremely distressed and in a very unstable condition, she was sent to a psychiatric intensive care unit where she was taken back to the hospital after only 2 days and discharged into the public the same day, they clearly thought she was no threat to herself or the public.

The hospital took her to court and were pushing for the maximum sentence of life imprisonment. They argued that my sister started the fire with intent to kill the staff. My sister did not harm any staff as proven by the CCTV shown in court. They also wanted to charge her for £20,000 of damages. The damage to the floor caused by the fire was confirmed as £87 but they claim they have lost revenue by the room been unavailable and other areas that were out of use due to damage from ‘thick black smoke’ although no smoke could be seen on the CCTV. Fortunately the judge saw how unwell my sister was and has given her an indefinite hospital order as expected.

What made the situation worse was the article the local press posted in response to the court case. Their headline ‘Patient detained indefinitely after trying to burn psychiatric unit and staff’ is not only inaccurate but also very distressing for my sister and my family. Nicole started the fire in an attempt to harm herself. The headline ‘Patient detained indefinitely after trying to burn herself in a suicide attempt to avoid being homeless’ would have been more appropriate. The stress that the press has caused my family is unnecessary, despite numerous complaints by myself, family, friends and even strangers, they have completely ignored us and gone to promote the article even more by promoting it on their social media pages and on their website as the top story, as well as posting the headline ‘Patient tried to burn down psychiatric unit’ around our city outside shops. In cases where the prosecuted is mentally unwell, there should be more regulations on naming the patient. Seeing comments like this which are inaccurate is enough to make some like my sister have yet another suicide attempt. After finding out about the article she is now adamant the press are going to murder her due to her irrational thinking. 

The hospital allowed my sister to take class A drugs on their ward given to her by other patients, they were aware of the drug situation in the hospital as we called the police several times about it. They forced her to sleep in the hospital car park as they refused to let her inside, after suicide attempts they would force her to leave the unit and let her go where she wanted, I have recordings on my phone of the staff and doctors treating my family like we were relatives to a horrendous criminal and not a very unwell patient. She would abscond and the staff would reassure us she was on the unit, only for them to tell us hours later that she wasn’t intact there but no effort would be made to find her. One memorable incident she had an extremely bad psychotic episode at our house while she was on leave from the hospital, the ambulance service picked her up and called the hospital explaining she was having the worst psychotic episode they had ever witnessed and was suicidal. When she arrived back to the unit they rang my parents at around 5am explaining they did not think she was unwell and were sending her to our home in a taxi (baring in mind she was extremely mentally unwell and vulnerable) even though that would create a child safeguarding issue with my younger brother. Another incident they sent her home for a visit in a taxi, my parents told them to make sure the taxi driver dropped her off at our house and nowhere else. The taxi driver dropped her at the end of our street and hence we had to call the police as she went missing, she was found by a member of the public blue, unconscious and minutes from death after ligaturing. 

I am creating this petition with hope that we can raise more awareness about the mental health crisis that our country has. After publicly speaking about the way my sister has been treated, I have been contacted by many others who have also been let down by the system. As a sufferer from mental illness myself I have also experienced the disappointment within the system. I have spent months on waiting lists to see therapists only to be belittled and mocked by the very people who are supposed to help me. 

People with mental illnesses, no matter how severe, deserve to be treated with dignity and deserve help and not punishment. There should also be a bigger effort to try place inpatients closer to their families who are usually vital to their recovery, rather than placing them hundreds of miles away. More needs to be done to view mental health as just as severe as physical health and hopefully this petition can be a start.