When patients are discharged from our care they hope to settle back into community life, explore and make new friends. But what happens when you're discharged just before the world goes into lockdown? Read the Guardian for an an honest insight from a former St Andrew's patient...
"Wednesday 18 March was a day I’d been dreaming of for years. A day when I would finally get my own freedom, make my own choices, meet long-lost friends, go to the cinema, sit in a cafe – and be at peace. My life would finally be my own again.
But it wasn’t to be. Instead it was a day when the world was spiralling into its biggest crisis in a generation and the country was just days away from being put on lockdown. I went from being sectioned for 10 years to being shut in my own home.
I’m in my mid-30s and I’ve been diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I spent a decade living in a psychiatric hospital and for the majority of that time I was detained under the Mental Health Act, meaning my life and decisions were mainly controlled by other people.
The lockdown doesn’t feel dissimilar to my time in hospital, but now it’s the government controlling my movements, rather than my doctors – although I know the intentions of both are to save lives.
I was first admitted to services after I’d tried to kill myself. My freedom was taken away from me unexpectedly, which was one of the hardest things I had to face, and I imagine this is why so many people across the world are struggling now.
The life people once knew and the liberty they took for granted has suddenly changed, and we don’t know if and when it will get back to normal. This is even more challenging for those of us living with mental health problems.
Living in a mental health hospital was tough. I was constantly surrounded by other patients who were dealing with their own inner struggles. It felt hectic, overwhelming, and isolating all at the same time. You wouldn’t think that when you’re surrounded by so many people you can feel so lonely, but we found a way of living alongside each other because we recognised each other’s problems and could identify in some way.
It’s really only been in the last 18 months, after I moved to St Andrew’s Healthcare in Northampton, that I’ve started feeling comfortable in my own skin. The therapy and support I received there and in other hospitals, and the resilience I’ve gained through my experiences, has set me in good stead to deal with anything life may throw at me, including a global health emergency. But this strength is something I built up over 10 years. Others will have been thrown into the current situation almost overnight.
My fear is that during this pandemic we could see a significant spike in suicide or self-harm rates as vital support is stripped away, and those living with mental health problems are left with nothing but their own thoughts. Depression and anxiety thrive on social isolation, a lack of routine, and sudden changes of plans.
The lockdown will mean that a lot of people can no longer access mental health services, attend face-to-face therapy, or simply see their friends – things that offer people a lifeline in a mental health crisis. It’s not surprising that a recent survey by Young Minds found that 80% of young people with a history of mental ill health found their conditions have worsened since the coronavirus crisis began in the UK.
When this is over I expect we will see a surge in the demand for mental health services, and I worry how the overstretched system will cope. The lack of money, too few beds and the shortage of home support meant it was already in crisis long before this pandemic hit.
I’m now out of hospital and living on my own. The initial anger and frustration I felt that this virus could take away my freedom has now turned to acceptance and hope.
I don’t have much in the way of professional support, but I don’t feel like I need it. I’m equipped with the skills I need to keep me safe. I’m maintaining a routine, and reducing my intake of news and social media. But above all, I have a good network of friends and family who I’m staying connected with through phone calls, videos and messages. I urge others struggling to reach out and talk to people.
For some, this may not be enough. It’s one thing to raise awareness of mental health, but it’s another to actually treat it. If we’re to heal the mental scars of this crisis, we must see a nationwide commitment to tackling mental illness with a firm focus on community care. Then – and only then – will we be prepared if we’re hit by another national emergency."