I had attempted suicide, and been brought in against my will by police officers. They were kind and empathetic, and told me they couldn’t and wouldn’t let me die. They assured me they were taking me to get help. Imagine my shock when the psychiatrist sat in front of me showed no such empathy or concern for my life.
If you’ve ever been sectioned you’ll know it’s a pretty humiliating and distressing experience for one already so distressed. I had a Mental Health Act Assessment and was probably the most suicidal and hopeless I had ever been. I expressed that I intended to end my life and that I was not willing to engage with the crisis team in the morning because I would be dead by then.
From the assessment the psychiatrist came to the conclusion that I had Borderline Personality Disorder, and thus was probably not truly suicidal. He accused me of trying to manipulate my way onto a further section of the Mental Health Act, and I later found out had told the nurse at the 136 suite that I was ‘not treatable’. He courteously offered a referral to the home treatment team who would phone me in the morning, which as I mentioned above, felt was pointless as I intended to die.
I was told repeatedly that if I wanted to kill myself it was my decision to make. He stated very matter-of-factly that his only priority was to ensure that his back was covered legally, and that if I were to kill myself, he felt he could justify his decision to allow me to do so in a coroner’s inquest. I was told that ‘some psychiatrists would play it safe and section you to keep you alive’, but he felt that wasn’t best for me because he wanted me to ‘take some responsibility’. Because of the Personality Disorder label? Discharging me expecting me to either die or ‘learn my lesson’ and never dare to be suicidal again, as if my actions were bad behaviour symptomatic of a fault in my personality rather than severe and genuine distress, as if it’s a risk worth taking, as if the latter is a realistic outcome. If we are living in a world where doctors whose explicit responsibility it is to care for us are happy to let us die, something has gone drastically wrong.
Within 30 minutes I was sectioned by the police again after making another attempt on my life, exactly as I had told the psychiatrist I was going to. I was lucky the police got to me in time, had they not, my parents would have lost a child, my sister a brother, and I’d have become another suicide statistic and it would have been completely preventable.
This isn’t an anomaly when it comes to ‘care’ for those of us with enduring mental health problems; it’s not even an anomaly in my own life, I could give you a multitude of other examples. So many others have similar stories of being told their suicide would be justifiable, that they can kill themselves if they want to, being discharged with immediate suicidal intent, in the name of taking some responsibility. As if telling someone their death would be justifiable is providing them some kind of great empowerment rather than disgusting, abusive treatment of those for whom you’re supposed to care. Those of us here to tell these stories are the lucky ones, the deaths of so many mentally ill people go this way and are so easily presentable if those responsible for our care had a little more regard for our lives.
I understand that resources are scarce, and austerity has a huge role to play in the shifting of mental health trusts towards these kinds of approaches, but that will never make it okay. Discharging someone with expressed suicidal intent is the equivalent of discharging someone in the middle of a heart attack, there is nothing positive about positive risk taking, you’re gambling with people’s lives.