Thursday, June 14, 2007

Helpless

I think my first experience with someone with mental health problems was when I was seventeen. I think I may have been on my way to the shop that was just over the road from where I lived when I saw a woman, obviously in a distressed state, walking down the road talking to herself. I went after her to see if I could help.

I remember the woman wasn’t dressed properly, although I don’t remember what she was wearing. She had slippers on her feet, and she held an unlit cigarette to her mouth. As she walked down the street she looked straight ahead, not even noticing my presence. She kept repeating herself over and over again saying “My husband has left me, my son has gone, and I don’t know where I am” I remember the inflection in her voice so clearly as if it was yesterday. I kept asking her if she knew her address. Could I take her home? Was there someone I could call for her? She didn’t see me or hear a word I said; she just carried on walking and talking, repeating the same thing over and over again. When we got to the bottom of the road, she crossed over and started walking back up the other side. “My husband has left me, my son has gone, and I don’t know where I am” I had no idea what to do to help her. I didn’t want to leave her to get help because I wouldn’t have been able to find her again.

"Portrait of a Woman Standing in a Street at 11.23 am"
by Phillipa King


I saw a Vicar sitting in a parked car going through some paper work. “Great” I thought, “he’ll know what to do”. I tapped on the window and he wound it down. I explained to the Vicar about the woman, pointing her out to him as she walked past on the other side of the road. “Yes, it’s very sad” he said looking over at her, and while he gave me a sermon on how sad it was she wandered off and I lost her.

I went inside feeling very disturbed by what had just happened; not just because the Vicar seemed so unwilling to get involved, but because I had no idea how to help the woman and I was worried about her. I felt utterly helpless. The experience stayed with me for a long time afterwards.


These last few days I have struggled with similar feelings, as a man I know who suffers from Bipolar took a life threatening overdose at the weekend. He was violently shaking and vomiting, hallucinating and passing out. When the ambulance arrived he refused to go to hospital, and so the ambulance crew left him behind.

Like the Vicar, his brother refused to get involved and I, after all my experience with Mr Man, still had no idea how to help. The best I could do was to suggest that his daughter call the out of hours doctor and explain the situation, hoping that the doctor would then make the necessary arrangements for a psychiatric assessment, but her Dad said he would never forgive her if she had him admitted, and he headed for the door. The last thing she wanted was for him to fall unconscious somewhere and to choke to death on his own vomit so, worried for his safety and feeling emotionally tied, she agreed not to call anyone. It seemed the only thing his family could do was to take it in turns to stay with him and hope that he recovered.

The feeling of helplessness in a situation like this is compounded by professionals passing the buck; an ambulance crew who drive away instead of calling an ambulance officer or a GP; then two days later a psychiatrist who refers him to a GP, and a GP who merely “urges” him to go to the hospital the next day for a blood test. If professionals are this unwilling to help, who else is there to turn to? Where is this mans Care Co-ordinator? Where is his CPN? Where is his Care Plan? What does this man have to do before his needs are taken seriously?

If it’s as difficult as this for a man with people looking out for him to get help, how many more are slipping through the system without a person who cares for them to demand services on their behalf?

18 comments:

Catherine said...

Your post left me feeling sad and empty inside. Recently I have read a lot of posts coming from bloggers saying that the very people that are supposed to help them, aren't.

Is this just what happens when you cannot fight for yourself? Everyone ignores you?

slurry said...

I totally understand what you were saying in that post. in regards as where is the cpn ect, if its not mon-fri 9-5 they dont want to know, even in those hours they prob wouldnt want to anyhow.

I think if I was put in that position as I have been a couple of times I would have called the police, not as anything criminal is happening, bu they are very good at getting people sorted out and getting them to do their jobs properly.

Mr Mans Wife said...

Thank you Catherine and Slurry for your comments. As I feel that this is such an important issue I have decided to respond to your comments in a blog post (I hope you don't mind).

Slurry said...

Sounds good, look forward to reading it. I had my 15 mins of fame last night, on talk sports james whale show, talking about care in the community, or lack of.

Anonymous said...

Hello MMW

I felt so sad reading your post...and a little triggered as well. Like your friend I am bipolar...and I have been in situations like him.

My therapist says the initials for the medical term..Bipolar Affective Disorder are oftened shortened to B.A.D. and unfortunately, some people look at our behaviour as just that...bad.

I know what its like to have people who should be able to help me...even if they have to insist...tell me..ok..its your life.

My family actually took te bull by the bull by the horns and had me hospitalized for 6 months. I was angry...told them I hated them and that I would never speak with them again. But...then I got better and I understood why they had done it. "sigh" I dont know what the answer is...but its nice to know you are so lovely and caring.

Laurie

Roses said...

My first experience with someone with mental health issues was when I was 13. My father (who lived half a world away) was diagnosed with manic depression. He wasn't a great parent to start with and being bi-polar flushed our relationship down the toilet for 18 years pretty much. In that time he was under the umbrella of the NHS.

In 2000, he crashed and burnt big time, by that time he could no longer take lithium. My brother took my dad back to the Caribbean and paid for psychiatric treatment which included therapy and a new drug regime.

Three years ago, while my mother lay dying, my father and I re-established our relationship. Actually, that's not true. We forged a new one. I discovered a thoughtful, considerate, caring man. We keep in touch often and for the first time he says he loves me.

The point: NHS might be 'free' but it does not offer the most appropriate forms of treatment.

Mr Mans Wife said...

Wow Slurry, you're famous! Is that show on the radio or tv? (See how clueless I am?) That's great that you got to raise some awareness.


Hi again Laurie, thanks for sharing your experience. It's true that sometimes people with mental health problems are just treated like naughty children or as if they are "out of order". I'm glad that your family felt strong enough to get you the help you needed, and that you realise that now. It is such a difficult decision to make when emotions are involved.


Hi Roses, thank you for sharing your experience also. You make a very valid point about NHS services, and I'm glad that your brother was able to afford the help your Dad needed. That's wonderful that you have discovered such an appealing side to your Dads personality that you didn't know before. He is obviously doing very well now, and I'm really pleased.

Thank you everyone for your comments so far.

Slurry said...

Its a national radio show, quite intrsting, as you feel half the things your saying are nonsence, and allways feels rather rushed, last time I was on the radio was for bbc radio 4, on the you and yours program and that was much more relaxed.

Mr Mans Wife said...

That's great Slurry. Was your interview on BBC radio 4 about care in the community as well?

Slurry said...

Yep my radio 4 interveiw, was about care in the community,and how the younger generation of those of us who have not been the long stay hospital generation are coping will very little or no support, and the stigma around the illness.

Mr Mans Wife said...

Good for you Slurry, I didn't realise you were so involved in raising awareness. Have you been involved in other ways as well?

slurry said...

Yes I have been involved with quite alot of awareness work, ever since this incident

http://www.surrey.police.uk/news_item.asp?artid=4809

It doent say a hell of alot on the article, but there were huge failings in the system locally, and even though I was unwell at the time and was rather unwell up until about 18 months ago, I have allways tried to fight for a better system. Justin, the guy in the article, was my best mate, and the best mate anyone could ever have, was very unwell and could have killed us all, but if I was to see him in the street tommorow, I would shake his hand and buy him a pint. I am quite well known around the home counties for my work in mental health, but sadly it allways seems like a fruitless exercise.

Mr Mans Wife said...

Oh my goodness Slurry, the article says nothing about his mental health problems (which actually is quite surprising because the media seem to enjoy portraying people with mental health problems as dangerous criminals).

Was it his mental health problems that led to this incident? Shouldn't this have been taken into account? No wonder you decided to get involved in raising awareness. Do you get the opportunity to visit your friend? How is he doing now?

Anonymous said...

I totally understand your post and all the commits. Why can't people with mental illness get more help.

Others do not know what's its like to have someone you love have these disease and know where to turn.

Slurry said...

yes it was his mental illness which led up to the event, he wasnot been looked after by the Cmht very well at all, we both had the same cpn, and we knew something big was going to happen so rang the cpn, many times in the week leading up to it, never did they come and visit Justin or speak to him like they promised then it was to late. The reason i asume they dont mention the mental health problems, is as its a police news release, and they have to be very PC. I hear from Justin sometimes, he does not do well in the prison system, as its the wrong place for a mentally ill person, and am so bitter at the system which failed him and so many others. needlessto say I got rid of that cpn from my care, but I still see him about and inwardly fume, as anyone would at a system which has ripped lifes apart, and robbed a youngman of his freedom.

Mr Mans Wife said...

Thank you for your comments Anonymous. Am I right in thinking that you also care for someone with mental health problems who is struggling to get help? It's a draining experience when you can’t get them the help they need isn’t it?

If you go to www.carers.org you may be able to find out what support services are available in your area. Don't struggle on your own if you don't have to. Thanks for commenting :)


Slurry, what you describe is something that I have experienced myself with Mr Man. It's not something I have written about in detail yet, but I knew that "something big was going to happen" with Mr Man, and like you, I made many calls over the period of a week. My fears weren't taken seriously either and Mr Man nearly lost his life.

Yes, it is extremely hard to let go of feelings of bitterness when something so serious happens to someone you care about, due to someone else not doing their job properly. I ended up needing counselling because I was so angry all the time. I hope that like you, I can now start to do something constructive with my anger.

slurry said...

I find useing the anger in a controled mannor allways very helpfull, as many know doing anything in the area of mental health, is a fruitless task and can be very demoralising, as very little ever changes, and when you are feeling burt out and out of energy you think of the injustice of it all and suddenly find yourself ready to fight again.

Mr Mans Wife said...

Amen to that Slurry. I've really appreciated your comments.