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Last Updated: Wednesday, 4 August, 2004, 08:51 GMT 09:51 UK
'Psychiatric services failed me'
Many people who have used mental health services have been unhappy with the care they received, a Healthcare commission survey has revealed.

Michelle Roberts spoke with one man about the psychiatric care he received for manic depression over the last decade.

John, 45, described the experience as cold and alienating, with little support from overworked staff.

He wishes to remain anonymous because of the stigma he says is still attached to mental health problems.

John has manic depression, also known as bipolar disorder.

It is called bipolar because the symptoms swing from deep clinical depression to episodes of extreme mania, where sufferers are gripped by an uncontrollable energy and euphoria.

Over the last 10 years he has been admitted to a psychiatric unit three times, each for around three months.

These were nightmare times for John, which were not eased by the care he received.

"The environment is very cold. It's very alienating. You just get put into the system.

"The way they treat you is they know your symptoms and they know how to treat you and you are just part of the system. The system deals with you and you have little input into your care.

Left out of decision making

"You are left at the mercy of the psychiatrist who you probably only see once or twice during your stay," he said.

John said he rarely got to see the psychiatrist in person and the nurses and healthcare assistants were too busy to talk with about his care.

"They have no time to see you. They give you all 'Come back in half an hour I'm busy now'.

"They put you off because they know what you are going to say to them but they have no power to change your medication, to change your regime without the psychiatrist.

"You feel frustrated, you have the side effects of the medication and then you are having to deal with other patients that are there."

He said it was very frightening being on a ward where patients were sometimes violent and the doors were locked all the time.

"I've got manic depression and I'm having to deal with some who is schizophrenic, someone who is catatonic schizophrenic and someone who is depressive and so on.

"The people you really want to talk to are the nurses and the staff but they are not there for you."

Lack of amenities

He said the amenities were poor or non-existent.

"The food is absolutely terrible. It's all precooked. There's nothing fresh to eat. You have to rely on your friends and relatives to bring you food.

"You don't really have anywhere that's comfortable - somewhere that's nice for you to sit.

"The only privacy that you get is if you pull the curtain around your bed. You are in an open ward.

"There was only one visiting room and that was a sort of dining area which was not private. The doors were open, the nurses were in the room and other patients. It was just like a prison ward," he said.

John was also disappointed with the support he received to get his life back on track after he was discharged.

"There was no help with benefits. Having received this diagnosis and being unable to work I was entitled to benefits.

"But the nurse could not help me, the doctor could not help me, the social worker could not help me with filling in the forms.

"You are looking for a bit more from them considering how they treated you in hospital. They were completely in control of your life.

"You could not do anything without their approval and when you leave you are on your own. 'You are well, you are not sick any more, we have done our job' so to speak," he said.

John said people with mental health problems and their families needed more support to understand these illnesses.

"The doctor only has five or 10 minutes for you and that's it.

"You need to sit down with somebody who can explain to you what your illness is and how it was caused," he said.

Misdiagnosis put my life at risk
18 Jan 04  |  Health
Long-term mentally ill 'ignored'
14 Apr 04  |  Health

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