Mental Health: Being transferred miles from home for treatment
I was recently reading a news article on The Independent about the number of Mental Health patients who were treated miles from home. The number, according to the article, is on the rise. This is not something that should be shrugged off, and is actually rather worrying.
But why is it so bad? I mean, at least people are being treated, right?
It’s no where near as simple as that. Being a Medical Student has helped me appreciate that. However, the full extent of the appreciation comes from my own experiences of actually having been a mental health inpatient.
My own admission
My admission happened over a year ago now. There were no psychiatric beds available in the whole of London when I was told I would be admit. Let this sink in for a second – we were in London. The biggest city in the UK. The biggest city in London did not have one psychiatric bed available. I highly doubt that I would have been the only person that night who required admission. There must have been so many who were in a similar position.
So, I was kept on a small sofa overnight in the outpatients department. Being over 6 foot, this wasn’t comfortable to sleep on at all. It was scary. I was uncertain as to what would happen. I was at my most vulnerable and this is what happened. As a disclaimer, I am not for a second faulting the professionals here. They did a fantastic job given the lack of resources they had.
The next morning, a bed was finally found. But it was outside London. Quite a bit outside London, in fact.
What was the big deal about this?
When you are admit to hospital – for physical or mental health – you are arguably at your most vulnerable. With mental health, your mental state is (obviously) not fully fit either. Being taken away in a taxi miles from home is hardly some super fun road trip. It is utterly scary. There is uncertainty as to what is about to happen. In my case, I had never even been in a psychiatric inpatient unit before – either in a professional capacity as a medical student or as a mental health patient.
I was not sectioned either – my admission was entirely voluntary. I wonder how much scarier it must be for people who have been sectioned against their will. Not only do they not want to be admit, but they are forcibly taken miles away from their home. It sounds like prison. (Again, I am not necessarily against professionals sectioning patients – more annoyed at the way in which resources have made it even worse).
On my way to the hospital, I texted a friend to tell them what had happened. The first thing they wanted to know was where I was. When I told them that I was miles outside London, it became very difficult for them to come. Given my mental state at the time, I was not particularly understanding of that. However, in hindsight, I can see how much of an ask it would have been for them.
For mental health, the support of family and friends is absolutely vital. Such is the nature of the illness. Yet, by being transferred out like that, it is not easy for them to be there for us. I also met another patient who was admit with me who had been transferred so far that his parents couldn’t visit him. That sounds utterly horrible.
I have rambled on and on throughout this blog about how friends and family should be there for people with mental health issues. However, all things like this do is make it even less likely for them to be there. Not necessarily through their fault either, mind you.
This will sound silly, but I had no spare clothes on me on my admission. I had not expected to be taken into hospital when I went out before an ambulance was called for me. After all, who does expect things like this to happen?
The problem was that with me now being miles from home, there was no way for me to get spare clothes either. I couldn’t ask anyone to get them, nor could I go out quickly myself to get them. Wearing the same clothes for days and while sleeping was hardly comfortable, nor hygienic. I had no other option, however. Hospitals struggle to find resources as it is, so it should be unsurprising when I say they had no spare clothes either.
Things like basic hygiene can be compromised as a result.
But surely I got treatment?
Fair enough, I did get treatment at least. In my case, my care was excellent and my stay was very helpful. However, at what point does all this negativity mean that it is better not to treat?
My time at Medical School so far has taught me that Medicine is just a game of risks. Treatments are all chosen on the basis of whether or not their pros outweigh the cons. All drugs will have side effects. All surgeries will have risks of complications. Similarly for mental health, this transfer miles out could, for come, just be more unhelpful than helpful.