Mentally unwell or criminal? My experience of being criminalised for my mental health.

In June 2017 my life fell apart. I was raped and endured a year long police investigation into the matter. I had always had a good life up to this point but suddenly it was flipped upside down; I was out of work and struggling with thoughts of suicide and self-harm. My way of coping was to overdose and I was constantly in and out of general and psychiatric hospitals.

As some of the overdoses were away from home and, on occasion, I would abscond from hospital when in severe distress, the police decided to issue me with a Community Protection Notice Warning (CPNW). It read:

 “This letter should be considered as formal notification of your need to put these problems right to avoid further consequence. Please ensure you take the following action/s within the timescales detailed.”

The actions were as follows:

  • not to have any unprescribed medications on me
  • not to act or ‘behave’ in a way as to cause another person to believe I’m in danger of harming myself.
  • not to contact anyone by any means to make threats or allude to any thoughts of self harm or suicide. This includes my close friends and family.

In a time where “just talk” and “reach out for help if suicidal” narratives are everywhere, being under a police-ordered notice NOT to talk is incredibly isolating. It goes against all the research that talking about suicidal thoughts is crucial in managing them. It gives the police powers over my health, where they have no place. It is a violation of human rights.

Unsurprisingly, the letter didn’t help my feelings of hopelessness and my struggles to engage with mental health services. Instead of being instantly cured from my mental health problems and suddenly stopping the self-destructive ‘behaviours’ like the police had hoped, I continued to be admitted.  My admissions became a lot more severe each time, and I usually ended up in intensive care units. Health professionals would mention the CPNW whenever I asked about signing forms to leave, and they would constantly threaten to contact the police and tell them I’d breached the notice. Health professionals became an extension of the police force and I found it impossible to trust them.

Eventually in May of 2019 the police decided to issue me with the full Community Protection Notice (CPN). This is valid for 2 years and includes all the same actions contained in the  warning letter that I must abide by. Once when I was struggling I text a friend to say I was thinking of harming myself. She ended up calling for help and the police showed up, who told me I had broken my notice.

I have never felt more isolated than I am now knowing that if I do need help I can’t so much as tell a friend or even a family member. I’m not even allowed to tell my mum I’m struggling. What sort of life is that? If my family call for help, it’s me who will get arrested. The only people I’m allowed to talk to about suicidal distress are specified mental health professionals, yet they are the ones who’ve put me in this situation. My trust in them is at an all time low. Talking about my distress and asking for help is now a criminal offence.

Increasingly more people, often those given a BPD diagnosis label, are being arrested and sent to prison because of suicide attempts or their communication of extreme distress, despite the fact suicide has been decriminalised since 1961. More and more of us are ending up in the criminal justice system because of our mental illness. It seems we are seeing a resurgence of the criminalisation of the mentally ill by the back door, in the name of ‘public protection’.

If you genuinely want to help people like me, please start by just listening. Provide me with appropriate support, talk to me, offer me therapy – just don’t call the police.

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recoveryinthebin

A critical theorist and activist collective.