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Posted on Sep 15 2021 by Fiona Bailey

A father of a former St Andrew's patient has spoken out about his experience of mental health in support of Carers Week that takes place every year. 

As part of the national campaign, St Andrew's launched its Carers Commitment, which ensures all staff work in partnership with its patients' carers, providing support and guidance, while also listening to their questions and concerns.

Rob has opened up about his own journey as a Carer to his son, who is referred to as J throughout the article to protect his confidentiality.

Rob admits that before his son became unwell he had had "very little" experience of mental health but had to very quickly adapt his behaviour in order to help him. 

However, the mechanical engineer explained that due to J having been born very prematurely, he had already experienced other health challenges when it came to reaching development goals. He had also been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) when he was about three. 

Despite that, J still went to mainstream school, was able to make friends and participated in many different activities. It was not until he turned 15 that Rob started to notice a change in his behaviour. 

He said: "He was becoming ever more withdrawn, and finally one Friday afternoon in February I noticed several cuts on his arms. I sat him down and it all came pouring out about how was struggling to manage his feelings."

Rob immediately took him to see his GP and J was referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) crisis team, who then referred him to see a consultant. But the next available appointment was five months away and during that time J's mental health "spiralled rapidly downwards".

It was becoming more challenging to get him to attend school and he was "becoming increasingly paranoid thinking that everyone was watching him and was prone to frequent meltdowns", rob explained.

Eventually he refused to go to school at all and started to become aggressive towards his mother, who had also become extremely unwell at the same time. 

Rob said: "One day I came home from work to find his mother sitting on the lawn sobbing uncontrollably, telling me she wanted to end it all. I became involved with another crisis team and this led to her admission to our local NHS mental health unit.

"My son’s condition continued to deteriorate and admission to hospital was planned. Nine people arrived to take him there, including doctors, social workers, police officers and an ambulance crew.

"I remember watching him get into the ambulance and he looked quite frightened. After they left I was standing there on my own, thinking 'they have taken my child', and I must admit I was close to tears."

Later that day Rob recalls how the hospital asked him to take in J's phone charger, but on arrival he was not permitted to see him.

Rob said: "It was at that point that I realised for the first time that I no longer had control over what happened to my child. That was a difficult thing to accept."

J was then transferred to a Nottingham hospital where he was assessed and stayed for three weeks. Eventually it was decided that J should be transferred to the CAMHS unit, which at the time was in FitzRoy House at St Andrew’s in Northampton.

Rob said: "On the day my son was admitted I called the ward and was told that he had arrived safely and was invited to visit him. When I arrived I was taken to the ward meeting room and he was brought to me, and the nurse sat and explained to us the basic workings of the ward.

"At the end of the visit, a young Healthcare Assistant went with J back to the ward, where she sat and talked with him and played chess with him for a couple of hours. I remember feeling relieved that he would be safe, and being impressed with the staff and the facility."

Two weeks later Rob was then asked invited to a welcome meeting with the multi-disciplinary team (MDT) which included nursing staff, a ward social worker, J's psychologist and his Consultant Psychiatrist, also referred to as the Responsible Clinician (RC).

Rob said: "Everyone introduced themselves and explained their role in J’s care. The RC took some time discussing J’s needs and the basics of his care plan, he also took time to listen and acknowledge J’s views. The staff made me feel that I was part of the team looking after my son."

In addition to the care J was receiving at St Andrew's, Rob was also impressed at the different people he was being exposed to during his stay there.

"My son grew up in a rural village and only ever went to school in the village, and so he had spent very little time with people from other cultures and backgrounds although he has always been interested in them. St Andrew’s has a very diverse mix of staff which definitely had a very positive effect on him.

"I remember him having long conversations with a Healthcare Assistant who was from India. They would talk about his travels by motorcycle in India, and another nurse from Croatia would show him photographs of her homeland.

"As well as the amazing staff, I was also impressed by the facilities that are available on the Northampton site. The grounds are beautiful and there are cafes, a gym, family rooms and also the education provided is brilliant. The therapeutic value of these should not be overlooked. By comparison the local NHS hospital, where his mother was detained, has very few facilities for patients or carers, only a dayroom shared with other visitors."

When J turned 18 he celebrated his birthday with a picnic and presents at lunchtime with his dad and sister as his mum was still unwell in hospital. 

He was discharged in July 2020 and he currently resides in a rehabilitation unit. Rob said that although the facilities may not be as varied as the ones at St Andrew's his son "continues to make good progress".  

He added: "J left St Andrew’s in much better mental health than when he arrived. As a carer it is hard to describe how you feel when you see those first signs of recovery. Some of us have described our journey as a roller coaster ride, but with hope comes the realisation that one day the ride will stop and you will be able to get off."