The NHS and self-harm – a gap in care

Rita Binns

Signposts pointing in different directions. Text on each sign: There, Away, Anywhere But Here, Somewhere Else, Anywhere, Just get on and do it, We don’t give a ****

The Covid-19 outbreak has changed all health services. The changes have been far reaching and stretch beyond the pandemic. The pandemic has also highlighted pre-existing inequalities in the NHS – this blog is based on one person’s experience of accessing care and treatment for self-harm. From what other people have told us, they are not the only ones dealing with the same problems.

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While emergency treatment has remained available, going to Accident and Emergency (A&E) is a changed experience. Now you have your temperature taken on arrival and are placed in a different waiting area depending on ‘Covid status.’ Staff who greet and treat you are wearing personal protective equipment. At present there are plans, drawn up by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, to try to limit attendances to those who are referred by 111, their GP or are brought in by ambulance. This change, if introduced, could have a profound impact on people with mental distress, who already feel they are actively discouraged from attending A&E even when they feel at risk of completing suicide.
I self-injure by cutting at times of extreme distress. My self-harm is acutely painful, cyclical and compulsive in response to a number of events which become a personal crisis. The pandemic has made me avoid hospital services through fear of disapproval, shaming, concern about unknowingly infecting others or being infected, and taking up scarce resources.
I know that NHS services may see any temporary cessation of self-harm as a success. In reality, it is still a daily battle to stave off self-harm when I am alone and in difficult circumstances. Because of the lock-down, I have had no video or face to face contact with my two family members for four months. I am forced to work from home in a housing association flat that has no garden or balcony. I have lost the pastimes that served as a distraction and reason to live. I have needed to switch to Skype with my private psychologist, though I am getting used to this. I feel incredibly lonely and have suicidal thoughts at times given the way we now must live for a long time yet.

In truth I felt abandoned by NHS services long before the outbreak changed the services available. Mental health services view my self-harm as ‘impulsive’, ‘longstanding’ and due to Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). These ‘specialist’ services, provided by a single mental health trust, avoid getting involved at all costs. It feels as though I have been blacklisted and that this status, along with the wretched diagnosis, will never be reviewed.

My experience has been primarily one of signposting and aborted referrals. I’ve had one off assessments that lead to nothing more than more signposting and ‘action plans’ that act as service back-covering tick-lists. All this leaves me feeling worse than ever.
There are misconceptions about those who self-harm feeling some high or adrenaline rush. My experience is that there is no high, pay off, or euphoria. There is only torture which is heightened by the response from NHS mental health services. I do feel the re-emergence of my self-harm in ‘later life’ can be partly attributed to iatrogenic damage.
There is no NHS service help for people who self-harm. It is a service gap which no-one talks about, including the NICE guidelines, NHS providers or Clinical Commissioning Groups. The only way of accessing a chat is to injure, get wound closure by A&E and then see a Psychiatric Liaison practitioner as a one off. Liaison and CMHTs will always assess and discharge someone back to the GP, no matter how serious the recent injury or risk of either accidental death or disability. I was seen by the CMHT in February and told: “you have capacity to make bad decisions and that is the law.”

There is a slightly different approach to suicidal intentions expressed, but still the response to those is that it is our ‘choice’ if we want to kill ourselves as we have ‘capacity’ to do so. This is especially true for people who have been given the diagnosis of BPD where suicidality is seen as a trait rather than a concern.

Self-harm deserves the same level of concern as physical ill health, attempted suicide, eating disorders or addictions. I appreciate there are shortcomings in all mental health services due to historic underinvestment, but eating disorders and addiction services do still exist in principle. Instead self-harm is seen as ‘longstanding’ and not an ‘acute mental health need’, for which someone needs therapies designed for those with ‘dysfunctional behaviours’ which come under PD. There is no crisis care as Crisis and Home Treatment Teams tend to say that they can’t make any difference to ‘chronic difficulties.’ People who self-harm may indeed feel in crisis, as I often do, but they are treated as though doing what they always do, as if it was a hobby rather than a sign of immense inner distress. I sometimes feel I could suffer amputation and still the non-response would be unchanged.

The lack of secondary care help for self-harm, apart from basic medical care, could be understood if there were primary care mental health services. I do believe that GPs and practice nurses are often dedicated and excellent, as my GP surgery has been. But still I now have the third named GP in one year due to GPs leaving the practice. During the Coronavirus pandemic, it has been more difficult to see a GP or practice nurse, phone 111 or access care for injuries. People with mental health issues have mostly all been left to fend for themselves unless they become very ill with the virus.

I have tried to raise with clinicians and commissioners how lacking the response is to self-harm but am just told that “services are not set up in the way that they used to be.” It is as though the reduction in mental health services over the years (due to demand, underfunding, imposed boundaries for BPD, staff shortage and raised thresholds) justifies the worsening of attitudes. The message seems to be that we just have to get used to this basic level of endless signposting service, with any actual intervention aimed at younger people or florid psychoses. It is signposting with no existing service for most of us, just an endless frustrating hunt with advertised crisis text lines along the way. Charity helplines will never replace consistent low- level support that would help people with long-term distress to survive and avoid crises.

I don’t think the lack of resources can be used as an excuse for the current treatment of self-harm in the mental health sector. Using more compassionate and sensitive language doesn’t cost any money. Health professionals should stop using insulting language immediately, and this should be part of any training programme. I could come up with a long list of clinical insults to exclude for starters; Impulsive, PD, chronic, behaviour, neurotic, enabling, and emotional regulation. Liaison teams are making matters worse when they advise medical staff on self-harm by saying not to show emotion or give attention. The doctors and nurses I have met in A&E have often been far more professional, thorough and caring than any of their mental health colleagues.

The NHS front line has deservedly been praised for the heroism and dedication shown during the pandemic. I share that admiration and gratitude to medics who have put their lives at risk because they care as a vocation. But care still needs to be extended to people who self-harm. If the aim is to keep mental health patients out of A&E to help with infection control, then we need alternatives including physical wound care, crisis support and access to a service rather than another plan that isn’t really a plan. All mental health professionals should try to grasp that those who self-harm are not one homogenous PD group. Individuals are not harming to present a problem to the service, but because inner pain has become too much to deal with in any other way. It is an opportunity to listen and avoid further harm.

Black Lives Matter – What White People In The UK Can Do

Text on black background saying Black Lives Matter UK @UKBLM

Nila K and C&P

Some things UK white people can do:
1. Get educated.
2. Learn about bystander intervention, practice and use it. If that’s not accessible/safe for you, then tell people about it who can do this work.
3. Donate to UK black led grassroots/radical groups. Or groups that do street medic/arrestee support. They might be about to get VERY busy.
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1. Get educated

For starters – read or listen to Reni Eddo-Lodge’s fantastic book Why I’m No longer Talking To White People About Race. Google Books

Reni Eddo-Lodge has asked that people borrow/share her book if possible, and send the money you’d have spent black grassroots groups
“This book financially transformed my life and I really don’t like the idea of personally profiting every time a video of a black person’s death goes viral.”

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2. Learn about bystander intervention
If they’re happening/its accessible, consider doing stewarding/action medic/arrestee support training. Even if you can’t get to demos, i promise you it’ll make you feel more confident about daily street intervention work – which is bloody important too.

Fantastaic ‘riot medic’ manual here: https://riotmedicine.net/
De-arrests are Holy. They save lives.
Persuade other ppl to donate/boost too.

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3. Donate to black-led grassroots/radical groups.
Examples include BLM UK, Green and Black Cross, UK Mutual Aid, or INQUEST, an incredible organisation who work on Deaths in Custody and holding UK state to account. They work on ALL deaths in custody whether police, psychiatric, prison, immigration detention. And they do all this on no fucking money. Like, they’d have to save up for a shoestring. If you have spare cash, send them some. I guarantee you they’re already busier than usual and gonna get more so.

Coronavirus And Benefits Propaganda

Photo of Boris Johnson at a podium. The words ‘demonising claimants’ are written in a white space over his right shoulder and the words “herd immunity” over his left shoulder. Below him are the words “sacrificing disabled people protecting profit”

Boris Johnson’s argument for an acceptable number of deaths for herd immunity to work is a useful analogue to look back at how propaganda about benefits was to push through austerity.

A lot of arguments about benefits hinged on an idea of mythical distinction between deserving and underserving benefit claimant, the ‘you’re alright mate it’s that other lot’ attitude (an argument also known to people who put up with racism at work), like some petty gangster protection racket we were supposed to accept that argument about ourselves, whilst selling out other claimants in the hope we wouldn’t be picked on ourselves. Obviously on accepting this protection, we are no longer allowed to criticize government policy as were we to we would subsequently lose the protection offered by the prejudiced person taking us under their wing. The protection is flimsy though as of course whilst this person is ‘acknowledging we are different from those ‘others’’, obviously so in order not to have to challenge his own prejudices given he knows more details of your case, he has to separate you as exceptional to ‘those others’ he is talking in ignorance about (so in fact the ‘protection’ is also for his own ignorance from his conscience) and you arguing your defence based on a more universal principle challenges that. However, there are others offering the same ‘protection’ to others that they in turn know who are ignorant of you. If you get shit from them, your ‘protector’ has to challenge his ideological affinities with the other bigot, and you are just expected to get used to it. So, you can be ‘killed’ at any time, where being ‘killed’ is a metaphor for putting up with prejudice, just so long as you don’t rock the boat, so the ‘protection’ is in fact just from each individual bigot.

Given this, let’s return to herd immunity. A certain number of people have to take a fall, die basically (not a metaphor this time), so the others can be protected (herd immunity – but based on poor science), an ideological argument that is in fact cover for protecting the economy. If we turn back to the early days of austerity, the attack on benefit rights came early. The first Household Survey after the coalition came to power showed a large drop in attitudes of respect for benefits, an acknowledgment of rights that had previously been stable for some time amongst the broader population.

The purpose of this change in attitude from the propaganda pushed by the government was to push through austerity, as there had been a crisis of capital it was necessary for the capitalists to consolidate their class position, this means, using Thomas Piketty’s formula for inequality, r>g (where r is the return on capital, and g is growth), increasing r again (after its drop) relative to g. Given g is growth, that includes both wages and profit from production (total revenue of all ‘firms’ – GDP (excluding dividends from shares and rents)), and that wages are paid based on the supply and demand in the marketplace for labour, but all labour-time contributes to total revenue, thus profit is the difference (after costs), then to increase r, wages had to be kept low. But this needed to be sold to wage earners. It’s quick to point to the demonisation of benefit claimants, but in an inverse of Cameron’s argument that ‘it wasn’t right that people earned less than those claiming’, it is in fact true that therefore benefit claims, especially the ‘humanitarian measure’ of how much was needed (based on relative poverty measures – in fact this form of measuring poverty was also attacked as part of the propaganda), were in fact a bottom level it is true below which it was not worth working (hence also the need for punitive sanctions for benefits), it’s just that the issue was that these wages were already too low, not that benefits were too high. The other bottom level was the minimum wage so it was here the demonization was required on top of the 1% freeze on benefits, minimum wage and public service wages (this would then have a weighting effect on supply and demand of wages in the private sphere through the competition for jobs), not just as a distraction from the attack on wages, but to give popular assent to the perceived minimum amount that wages themselves were worth in order to work.

But for a propaganda campaign like this to work that would give popular assent to austerity (with regards the other part of this campaign that involved lowering the average wage – the economics of it – it turns out, this aspect was tackled on misinformation about debt (it is worth noting that there was a ‘popular justification disjunct’ between the claim that austerity was necessary to pay off the debt, and that the debt was in fact rising)), given there were many reasons why people still understood the purpose of a social security system, it needed to meet a large enough audience.

We live in a world of targeted advertising, but it is still not an exact science, to get enough sales you still need to ‘reach’ far more people than will eventually buy. Similarly, the propaganda analogue therefore is that you need to negatively affect more people than the propaganda appeals to, to get sufficient support for the propaganda to push through its agenda. So, if demonization of benefit claimants was necessary, and part of that method was ‘deserving and undeserving’ distinctions. Then sufficient ‘genuine’ claimants had to be demonized in order to ‘get’ the perception of this mythical ‘cheat’ or ‘fraud’, at least in the popular imagination, to be a sufficiently large amount. It is here we get back to the protection racket mentioned above and its relation to herd immunity. In order for sufficient demonization to occur, a certain amount of harassment of ‘genuine’ claimants had to be tolerated. This included not allowing even the ‘genuine’ claimants to protest their treatment lest the Emperor’s New Clothes be exposed and people realise that more people were genuine than the ‘benefit bashers’ would otherwise allow, lest they realise their own behaviour might be more morally questionable than, ironically, the supposed ‘cheats’ they were demonizing. A certain amount of denial of equal rights of ‘genuine claimants’ had to be accepted, which included a silencing of them, even, by their ‘protection racket’ allies, often friends and family (who wanted a clear conscience demonizing other claimants), much as a certain amount of Covid-19 deaths had to be perceived as necessary to protect the economy, which given we are due a recession after this, and again r will have to be reconsolidated with regards g (again – before we had full recovered from the damage done by austerity) would again involve lowering the average working class wage further.

The Double Life Of The Recovered Professional

In or Out

I find myself in a dilemma.

I have spent the past 15 years engaging in ‘recovery’. I have spent the last six years (or thereabouts) shouting about how utterly grateful I am to the services that ‘saved’ me. I have worked hard to come off benefits and pay my way. From being the most difficult patient, I have become the poster girl for the recovered individual. I have been an (unpaid) service user facilitator in a DBT group, I have a chapter in a book edited by a renowned clinical psychologist and I have delivered motivational talks to groups of professionals. The dilemma I find myself in is that I no longer believe what I have said. My dilemma is further exacerbated by the fact I work in mental health services.

I would not be writing this if my internal self was congruent with my apparent external state. I keep thinking, ‘well, I am in a much better position than I was 10, 7, 4 years ago’, and this is true to a point. I am not attending A&E every weekend; I am not getting myself so drunk, I wake up two days later; my financial situation is much more stable. I have been able to maintain a relationship to the point of marriage, and I am able to interact with others in a socially acceptable way. In all of that, however, I do not state I actually feel better.

I imagine I must feel better because I am not doing the things I used to do…although I am. Recently, my spouse went away for a few weeks and I was left to my own devices. I took a ton of codeine (not to harm myself, just to get off my head, to feel better), I drank a fair bit (a litre of whiskey in one sitting), and I self-harmed (pretty fucking badly in all fairness). Not having work to go to and actually still being as isolated as I was 10 years made brought home the stark reality of my existence. All I have done is supress how I feel, ignore my experiences and distract from reality. With work removed, I am scrabbling around, afraid of myself and wondering what the fuck is it all about?

I thought I wanted to be a clinical psychologist, but it turns many of them are narcissistic, egotistical, elitist sociopaths. Furthermore, the selection process for the clinical psychology training is based on many things, a key one having the ability to interpret statistical data. I’ve met too many clinical psychologists who are excellent with graphs yet not so skilled with people. As long as I adhere to their way of thinking, then I am doing just dandy. Any deviation from their thought processes, then we are being difficult, wilful, and defensive. Their toxicity is disguised, however, as they talk about trauma as opposed to personality disorders (which isn’t a bad thing, as at least experiences are being somewhat acknowledged). What further happens is that the good ones think, ‘fuck this shit’, and they leave. Whilst I’m definitely not a clinical psychologist, I’m at that point of wanting to leave. Everything I thought I wanted has fell around me, and I realise that recovery is but a concept coined by the professionals who have no peripheral vision.

As someone who grew up in the care system, what am I trying to recover? I was sexually, physically, and emotionally abused. I did not see my biological mother for over 20 years. My child was removed from my care. I have struggled, but been made to feel guilt and shame for my responses. I was instructed to hide old self-harm scars during DBT. We were not allowed to talk about self-harm within group, because of the risk of glorifying or romanticising it. I have been indoctrinated just as much as the people from my childhood indoctrinated me.

I work as a mental health care support worker. Some of the people I work with are genuinely nice people, but I see their limitations created by the system. Terms such as, ‘it’s personality’, ‘they’re med seeking’, and ‘they’re a nightmare’ are bandied around without thought or reflection. How offensive is it to term someone’s personality as disordered following a whole heap of childhood trauma? Why are we ok to dispense diazepam when ‘patients’ are not asking for it, but when they request it for the same problem, we no longer see it as a beneficial? What makes someone a nightmare?

What I am left with is a fear of someone finding out about me and my ‘stuff’. I work in an office with a whole bunch of mental health ‘professionals’, yet I am terrified they will find out my secret. This fear comes from the stigma I have witnessed and been subject to throughout both my non-working and working life. I was stigmatised as a service user with a diagnoses of BPD, and I am unwittingly stigmatised within my profession. There are mental health nurses who quite happily state that people with mental health difficulties CAN NOT work in mental health. When asked what recovered, ex-service users can do, they cannot answer, just that we shouldn’t be working in mental health.

Why can’t I find someone to talk to, without them trying to fix me? Why can’t I say, ‘you know, I feel shit, and there’s a good chance I will always feel shit given my start in life, but I accept that. I might self-harm from time to time, as safely as possible, I might engage in some other behaviours, but I am not asking anyone to patch me up. I’ll do that myself. I just want space to talk about it’? Why is this not acceptable? Why am I not accepted as I am, cuts and all? Why do professionals only care if you are ‘engaging’? Engaging in what? I have done everything asked and expected of me, and more. I’m lonelier than ever because I have been trained to put up and shut up.

The mental health sector does not believe in the recovery they try and push, but they do not recognise this. If difficult, PD, nightmare patients cannot recover or work in mental health, what are the mental health service doing with their service users? What are they working towards? There is such a blatant, screaming irony in the system, yet most are blind to it. I see people who have started out with good intentions, but they quickly get swallowed by the toxicity around them. At least two thirds of the employees talk about how they won’t come out of the NHS because of the bloody pension. Right now, I feel trapped by the money, and hate myself for it. I do not want to be that person. I have been that person, in the past, screaming at professionals that they are simply ‘doing it for the money’. That’s me, right now, in this moment in time, doing my job for the money. I care about the people I work with, but that care is overshadowed by the misery of what I am witnessing. I am at the bottom of the pile, sneered at for being a band 3 HCSW (I am asked ‘why don’t you go and do your nursing?’ at least twice a week). The hierarchy is real, and damaging, and people are made to feel shame.

I am in a quandary, a place of unease. I need to live, survive, so I need my wage. For a few years, I believed that people were not doing ‘this’ for the money, but we are. When our motivator is money, what have we become? Our priority is us, not the people accessing the service. It’s not a bad thing to want a wage, to have the right to earn a living. It’s certainly not a good thing, however, when the wellbeing of others is dependent on the wage being offered. Every day in work, I hear judgement and disdain, frustration and contempt for both users of the service and for the system as a whole, yet people continue to work in the same environment for many years. I am not the only one who hates their situation, but I see few, if any, doing something about it. Those in-office attitudes should remind us of how the system is run, and who is running it – a group of unhappy individuals, entrusted with the care and treatment of unwell individuals.

Mental health services need a complete reform, yet I do not see that happening any time soon. The good ones leave, the weak ones follow the crowd, and the leaders bully and intimidate. Stigma remains rife and continues to grow, and treatment is based on the egotistical needs of the practitioner. Where therapists have told me, ‘it’s not your fault’, they have instilled a deep shame within me regarding my reactions. My words are out there, on paper, as the model patient, and I cannot undo that. I was so desperately trying to please, that childlike need in me still searching for a mother, and professionals have either been blind or willing to take advantage of it. I’m trapped, and I am afraid of becoming ‘one of them’.

About the Author: I would like to be able to be transparent with who I am, but it is difficult to do so right now; Because of the institutional nature of current services – once in, you cannot have a voice, or as a service user, you don’t have a voice unless it is tokenistic. I hope to be able to come out of the NHS safely and be more open about my experiences.
– L

Covid-19 and Eating Distress

Eating Distress sits at the intersection of physical and mental health making us particularly vulnerable at this time. 

This blog piece is written by a member with their own experience of eating distress and uses quotes from Twitter followers (with permission).

Empty supermarket shelves. Text: Covid-19 and Eating Distress

Turns out that successfully managing a 30+ year eating disorder for years by shopping infrequently and buying multiples of the same few items doesn’t work in a pandemic with restrictions. The gradual erosion of parts of life that feel possible, in the absence of help, is a worry.

For those of us with current or former difficulties with eating this is a mental health nightmare. Some of us took years to painfully regain some health and we can’t replace ‘safe’ foods with just anything. 

I’m struggling to get my ‘safe’ foods. Dx anorexia many years ago and still feel in control if I eat certain things and certain times. Been going on for so many years. I feel uuurgh too when many have no food at all. Also with all other things in the world out of my control, my control is needed more… if that makes sense 

Covid lockdown has had enormous impact on our mental and physical health. Many of us are having to self-isolate and are having to rely on supermarket deliveries, friends and family and volunteers to deliver our food. 

We may be unable to access possibly the only source of viable food due to restrictions on the number of items supermarkets will allow customers to buy.

We may have to purchase expensive meal replacement drinks not prescribed. 

We may feel embarrassed by volunteers seeing how restricted our food intake is.

Does anyone else feel that if they asked someone to get some food for them that it must be ‘essential’ ie no junk food lol

The inability to obtain key items can unravel a finely balanced ability to eat. The constant fear of ‘where does the next X come from?’ or ‘when will a delivery slot become available?’ leads us to focus and obsess.

I finished CBTE for this a couple of months ago, and everything I worked so far for has completely unravelled (CBTE – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for eating disorders)

Some of us have permanent health problems as a consequence of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating . These can include dental, bowel and/or bone conditions, which require permanent prescribed medicines and affect what we can and can’t eat. 

The Government registration covers limited physical conditions but not mental health conditions. Relevant charities could have made representations to the supermarkets – but it shouldn’t be based on BMI like services!

Food bank and government food parcels rarely contain fresh vegetables, fruit or dairy. Many of us struggle to eat a lot of rice, pasta, lentils or beans because of our health conditions. 

yes the food bank and Age UK parcels are very limited. The sad thing is many of us would be ok (enough £ permitting and yes it’s more expensive now), if we could access supermarket delivery slots. Some people I talk to in private need things like fortisip and are trying to get it online (fortsip – supplementary food)

Cooking is an issue for people who struggle with eating distress. Some of us can’t cook from scratch and many of us need ready meals which have the calories on the box.

Once you’re no longer seriously underweight and your eating has some semblance of ‘normality’, most people think that it’s all behind you. However, this is often not the case. 

Eating disorders in the context of a global pandemic are not easy. After a decade and a half of solid recovery from Anorexia nervosa, within days of the lockdown becoming inevitable I was under the duvet, barely eating and planning an exercise regimen to see me through being housebound. My appetite went AWOL due to anxiety and my weight started dropping.

Eating distress can often centre on issues of control  so finding ourselves in a situation where we are suddenly finding ourselves without the control over what food we can get hold of – and even allow into your home – can trigger more dangerous methods of control, methods we had once relinquished, such as the tyranny of the scales.

I felt really silly — I consider myself fully recovered from my ED. I never imagined I would be triggered like this. I started to speak out a little, expecting to be ridiculed. Many people do not know that I ever had an ED diagnosis. I suppose at some level I am ashamed of ever having had it at all. ED is a horrible illness that wrecked havoc in my life and seriously affected my family as well. I do not want a full-blown relapse. 

These issues are difficult to raise at a time when it is assumed that if you are in need of food help, ‘you will eat what you’re given’.

I think those feelings are heightened at a time of ‘we must be grateful for anything’ and there are sooo many people around us in dire circumstance

yes, and also related to feeling guilty about spending “badly” when income so reduced…sometimes feel my life is held together with bits of sticky tape (and this situation is pulling away some needed bits)

Mutual aid groups are doing brilliant work, but it’s not easy to say something like ‘I need 7-14 of these yogurts to live’ or whatever it is you need. So many issues – safe food no longer available, scarcity of food causing lots of ED. 

Thoughts and actions can get worse, getting used to having an empty stomach again because I can’t access the food I need which is a vicious cycle. 

And then there’s the impact of covid-19 on eating disorder services. 

For people who are at a clinically dangerous BMI some services have cut support or downgraded the BMI eligibility bar from 15 to 12. Some people can die at 15.

Have heard that eating disorder units are limiting admissions even more. You now have to be BMI 12 or under. People are dying because of this and it may not be listed as Coronavirus on the death certificate but it sure created the conditions to cause it.

Advice from members and followers who are dealing with eating distress at the moment.

  • Don’t beat yourself up for how triggered you are or how much you are struggling. This is the first global pandemic in our lifetimes. Give yourself time to freak out as you need to but keep this in check so that your ED cannot get a stronger hold on you. 
  • Speaking out about what you are struggling with helps. If you are ashamed to speak out publicly, discuss privately what problems you are facing and brainstorm solutions.
  • There is an enormous amount of exercise porn on the social medias, as if lockdown is an excuse for a fitness bootcamp. Acknowledge that this kind of messaging is not aimed at you right now and try to minimise exposure to it — unfollow unhelpful social media accounts, change the subject when talking to friends, figure out your own plan, check that out with friends, family or your treatment team and stick to that instead. Remember, Permitted Exercise takes place once per day! [Government guidelines at the time of writing.] 
  • Similarly there is a lot of productivity porn around. Cut yourself some slack. As someone said “The current era is crap enough without having to feel guilt that we aren’t learning Greek and painting watercolours of daffodils. If you brushed your teeth today and got showered and ate something and spent ten minutes not looking at the news then well done it’s an achievement.”
  • Keeping eating going is a priority, for all that your ED might tell you that it isn’t. Whether you’re finding it difficult to get hold of your safe foods, struggling to stick to a routine (like me), trying to work out how you can avoid binging when you cannot shop only for one day’s worth of food, or anything else, there will be solutions. ED loves rules. It’s time to make new ones, or adapt the old ones for these changing times. 
  •  Things will settle, they won’t be changing this fast for all time. Even if we are locked down for a while, the supply of foods will level out and new routines will be established. In the mean time it is about not getting worse for now. Reach out to your support networks both professional and informal and figure out what you can do today and this week. 
  • It is possible to buy nutritional shakes from Amazon (but it’s expensive) or ask your prescriber to prescribe them. They help me to reestablish a regular eating pattern without really thinking too hard; this might be an option for you, too.
  • Your ED makes you vulnerable to interruptions in the supply chain for foods. You need to work around this. Use family, friends and formal and informal support services as you find out how to keep your own nutrition going.
  • Accountability is an option. Make virtual lunch, snack or dinner dates and check in with each other. As the disability community, we owe it to each other to look out for each other. If you know your pal is struggling ask them how eating is going; respect each others’ boundaries though and back off if your pal would prefer not to talk about it for now.
  • Being underweight or undernourished will not be good for your immune system. Healthy immune systems are important. If you cannot eat for yourself, take care of your physical health for the sake of the rest of us. I’m not trying to guilt trip anyone but ED sits at the intersection of physical and mental health making us particularly vulnerable at this time. Hold onto your recovery, it is precious and a real asset in the fight against COVID-19. 

What has your experience been? Tell us on Twitter @RITB_ 

Useful links

An article by Radical Dietician, Lucy Aphromor Stress Eating is Life-Affirming and Can Help Us Cope in Troubled Times

 

3 Point Plan To Make DWP Support People During Covid-19 Outbreak

3 Point Plan to make DWP support people during Covid-19 Outbreak

1. Suspend all- assessments, reassessments, sanctions, conditionality jobcentre visits, training/work experience programs. Allow in claimants favour all Mandatory Reconsiderations and Tribunals. Default to granting awards until emergency over.

2. Introduce interim assessment phase payments equal to statutory sick pay for people making new claims of PIP, ESA, UC for reasons of illness or impairment. 

3. End any delay in payment, begin with advance payment on day one of all benefits. As UC does not give enough to live on, it must be increased and all rent (LHA) and personal allowances increased to real world living amounts.

DWP- Pay people so they can stay in their homes, Help don’t Hinder the fight against Covid-19!

Note: This is a brief 3 point set of demands, it is a work in progress but the message is clear, the DWP as it is currently organised will hinder and harm people during the Covid-19 Outbreak unless it radically changes its policies and disposition.

“I could justify your death to the coroner”: The Misuse of Positive Risk Taking in Mental Health

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.

Neorecovery, Neoliberalism and Enforced ‘Positive’ Risk Taking

This is the first in a series of blogs we are publishing about ‘positive risk taking’ in mental health. The Department of Health published its guidance, Best Practice in Managing Risk, in 2007 as part of the National Mental Health Risk Management Programme. It describes positive risk management as a collaborative process with the service user and their carers, which emphasises the importance of building on the service user’s strengths, while recognising the responsibility of individual clinicians and organisations as a whole. Positive risk taking is meant to be about collaboratively weighing up potential benefits and harms, with the aim of taking a risk for a positive outcome. As you will read in the blog below, this couldn’t be further from how it is being used in practice.

At a time of continued austerity, and neoliberal and neorecovery agendas, I see a worrying trend. NHS mental health services are covertly enforcing positive risk taking as a way to justify neglect, lack of care and exclusion. As long as services can defend their actions it seems they can avoid blame. I can’t help thinking that it’s something else; decisions are made due to diagnostic discrimination, financial reasons and lack of resources – not of clinical need. But there is no honesty or transparency when it comes to discussing risk with me.

“Positive risk taking needs a person-centred approach, where staff take a positive, recovery- oriented view of the service user and investigate what is important to keep them and others safe as they move towards better health and more independence. Positive risk taking is based on finding creative solutions rather than simply ruling out options for recovery based on fears and worries of what might go wrong”

from ‘Therapeutic Positive Risk Taking’ by Greater Manchester West Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust

I was forced to wear the Bullshit label of Borderline Personality Disorder and remain unrecovered for many reasons, despite being under the so called care of secondary mental health services for almost three decades. I have already written about this here

Having the BPD label is not conducive to a therapeutic and trauma informed relationship with professionals. Clinical judgement is biased and I have mainly been treated like shit on a shoe. Written throughout my clinical notes and said verbally so many times is; attention seeking, manipulative, complex, demanding and difficult. This has never changed. I’m sure I’m seen as someone who is taking up valuable resources. My severe distress seems to provoke negative reactions and less empathy from most professionals although it is not fake!

I have often found the mental health system to be coercive and controlling. In the past there have been times when I don’t think I needed to be detained under the Mental Health Act. Yet other times, I have no doubt that being locked up saved my life. I have recently tried to take back some control regarding risk, and whilst there aren’t as many threats of Mental Health Act Assessments and police involvement, there seems to be no action taken when I take responsibility and ask for help in an emergency situation.

Whilst I know that risk assessments are not that helpful in predicting suicide, I see the push towards positive risk taking from mental health services also comes alongside aims of zero suicide and suicide prevention, ‘ask for help if suicidal’ narratives, and Time to Talk. There seems to be an increased focus on those with milder mental health difficulties, yet those with long term need and severe and enduring difficulties are not having their needs met. I’m acutely aware that many people don’t have a Crisis Plan or a Care Coordinator despite being under the care of secondary mental health services. Some can’t access secondary mental health services at all, despite their need.

Over the years I have seen support for people like myself decimated. Crisis services are failing. I used to have some hope that services could keep me safe if I asked for help. I remember in years gone by there was more care in the community and effective and collaborative crisis planning. I could access the day hospital and extra appointments with my CPN or visits from the Home Crisis Resolution Team. I was offered short voluntary respite breaks in hospital as detailed in my Care Plan. Stays (even detained ones) in hospital were more therapeutic than they are now; nurses had more time to chat, there was not as much rush to be discharged and there was better follow up upon release.

Then came austerity, neoliberalism, minimisation of the State, the selling off of the NHS, social inequality and insecurity, and the move to a neorecovery based approach. This accelerated the emergence of individual responsibility and self-management, dependency and loss of productivity, all whilst ignoring the social detriments of health. Mental health services are now in crisis themselves and often struggle to provide even basic care. There is a lack of inpatient beds and more out of area beds. Emergency departments are under increased pressure. Community mental health teams are underfunded, under staffed and under pressure to discharge people who fail to recover. Staff seem to have become demotivated and detached and many of the better ones have left the NHS. Dual diagnosis services have been scrapped. There are long waits for therapy, which are often short term. Day centres closed and turned into recovery colleges, social care and welfare benefits cuts, peer workers are now often called recovery workers and bear no resemblance to grassroots peers. Police are taking up the slack for those in a crisis and some patients are even being prosecuted for trying to take their lives.

It’s difficult to get taken seriously when I’m desperate for help. Fears about my safety from my family aren’t taken into account and they no longer accept the responsibility forced on them by services to keep me safe when psychotic. There seems little point in having a crisis plan (now called a crisis recovery plan). Although I have had some input into my plan, it is very much led by professionals, with much less support on offer in a crisis situation than years ago. In any case the plan is no longer followed in acute crisis situations, despite it stating in capital letters at the top that if I do contact someone it will be an emergency. Professionals tell me that I have capacity to suicide but rarely provide any support. I feel like they just hope I don’t, and that if I do then I was actually telling the truth!

When I am detained under the Mental Health Act it’s often because of police involvement. Psychiatric wards are now hostile environments which I try to avoid at all costs. A recent CQC inspection of my Trust saw the safety of services had deteriorated and required improvement, and that acute inpatients wards were inadequate. Suddenly, it appears that only very short admissions to keep me safe are advised for people with my label and NICE guidelines for self harm are not being followed. Yet, the link between self harm and suicide is well known, with estimates of one out of 10 people with the BPD label taking their lives. Even coroners are issuing Prevention of Future Deaths notices after being alarmed at the lack of care that emerges during inquests.

For many years according to my clinical notes I was “at high risk of suicide.” This has now changed to “at high risk of accidental death.” In the last few years I have been left in high risk situations, because of the misuse of enforced positive risk taking. After a “near miss” serious incident a few years ago, whilst psychotic, three separate NHS mental health crisis services failed in their duty of care. Despite an internal investigation, which resulted in “lessons learned”, similar incidents have happened since (I will spare you the details). CPN stated that if I had died “the Trust wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on at a Coroner’s Court.” I am lucky to be alive! Others have sadly not been as lucky when asking for help and some simply gave up asking.

Neoliberal discourses attempt to position me as a responsible and active participant in my own care but also as blameworthy. I already feel like a failure, undeserving, worthless and ashamed. Am I not trying hard enough to be resilient, to be responsible and to recover? Am I too dependent? Have I not empowered myself enough? As a person with a severe and enduring mental health disability I realise I need to take some responsibility for reasonable risks in my daily life, but there are times that I simply can’t be responsible for my own safety. In these situations there is no joint decision making between myself and professionals. Being told it’s my choice to suicide when desperately asking for help in a life threatening situation as per my crisis plan is totally inappropriate and not one bit therapeutic. It seems to be shorthand for “We don’t give a fuck.”

Surely, services should not withhold support and care when I’m at serious risk of harm under the guise of it being in my best interests, to teach my badly behaved personality a lesson, as a way of tapering care to somehow facilitate resilience, or in a way to avoid blame. You’re actually gambling with my life. It’s scary! Positive risk taking – positive for who? It’s no good promoting recovery if I’m dead!

Written by G

Peer Support Worker Competence Framework: co-option in the name of co-production

This week The National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (NCCMH) – a partnership between Royal College of Psychiatrists and University College London – released a draft of their proposed Peer Worker Competence Framework for Mental Health. It brought together various groups and departments, including Health Education England, to develop and expand peer support work with the aim “to support the mental health workforce, as outlined in the NHS Long Term Plan”. 

It is an insult to the survivor movement and everything we value in peer support.

It would be impossible to sum up this 56 (!) page document – along with its 30 page supporting document – in a few sentences, so I won’t be going into the finer details in this blog. But among other recommendations, peers would “offer a recovery-oriented perspective” while carrying out coaching, group work, psychological interventions and contributing to care plans. This is something that’s become increasingly normalised in peer support work. A recent job description for a senior lived experience practitioner included the expectation that, “after a period of skill-swapping with their clinically trained colleague” they would provide psychologically-informed assessments, care-planning and treatment.

The framework also talks about embedding peer workers in specialist services, such as acute and forensic. An acquaintance who worked briefly as a Peer Support Worker at a mental health hospital had to undergo Prevention and Management of Violence and Aggression (PMVA) Training. PMVA training includes how to ‘safely’ restrain someone. Peer support work increasingly is asking those with lived experience to be nurses, psychologists or therapists in everything but name. It blurs the lines of responsibility about who provides care and why.

My most recent personal insight into NHS peer support was while I was under the care of the crisis team last year. I find the crisis team incredibly stressful, but because I was being threatened with the Mental Health Act, I accepted their involvement as the “least worst” option. The person doing the assessment suggested I see the Peer Support Worker in their team. I refused. They tried to persuade me. Apparently this person was “really special” and “could really get through to me”. I refused again. They tried to persuade me some more. I refused, more forcefully this time, and they finally got the message.

How is any of this staying true to the values of peer support? Is it really an offer of support when it’s an aggressive demand by an overstretched team? How can a peer stay true to the values of peer work when they are embedded in a team that by it’s nature sometimes uses detention and coercion? How often are NHS staff using Peer Support Workers to gain trust where they’ve previously lost it with patients, instead of addressing their own failures directly? Am I a peer worker if the majority of my job description is focused on ‘interventions’  and ‘treatment’?

How the hell have we got here?

The move to bring lived experience into mental health may have begun with noble intentions, but it’s been horribly exploited. I do not blame peer support workers themselves for these failings and believe they are just as in danger of being exploited as the patients they serve. But we are now feeling the effects of a system that actively refused to think through the implications of having lived experience in mental health, while ploughing ahead with embedding them uncritically in their services. This was done by design, not by accident. Too often peer support work in the NHS is used to plug gaps in overstretched and underfunded teams. Equality and mutuality, central to the values of peer support work, gets lost in a relationship that by it’s nature can never be equal. Are we really peers if you have access to my notes? How do peer workers deal with a conflict of interest between peer support values and the values of their employer? Why have divide and conquer techniques become a central tenet of peer support in services? It is co-option in the name of co-production.

In contrast to this version of peer support, I’ve received a great deal of brilliant ‘peer support’ through my involvement in the survivor movement, grassroots organisations and (despite their national mass-closure) at local drop-in centres. We don’t use the phrase ‘peer support’ much anymore – it has already been so co-opted by mainstream services that it often feels beyond repair – but that’s what I understand these experiences to be. 

In this version of peer support we arrive at the conversation as equals. Recovery is neither a requirement nor an obligation – for either of us. I do not ‘coach’ or offer ‘interventions’ and am safe in the knowledge that they will never do the same in return. I can talk about experiences I wouldn’t share with mental health workers – peer or otherwise – because I don’t fear it being documented in my notes and shared amongst people I’ve never met. I am able to learn about the history of the survivor movement spanning 50+ years from people who have lived it. I gain strength from our conversations about this history, and about how we can use our collective knowledge to heal ourselves and, perhaps, society. I learn new ways of coping with my own struggles through understanding other peoples. Sometimes just having someone alongside me in my distress has made me feel less alone. Other times peers have been able to provide practical support and advice, for example, about benefits and navigating services. When I’ve faced mistreatment from mental health services, they have understood implicitly the trauma this can inflict. We are able to set boundaries and do our best to resolve conflict or disagreements authentically, without intermediaries. We are not a homogeneous group and we embrace that – our diversity is our strength. 

Why are these voices no longer important in the debate about what a ‘Peer Worker Competence Framework’ should look like? Why is this the first we are hearing about a document that must have been meticulously planned for a considerable period of time? Peer support has been so badly co-opted by the establishment that it is no longer recognisable. If any of the major health and academic establishments currently claiming to be carrying out peer support work/consultancy really want to hear about what we value, the grassroots are here and ready to tell you.