Fiona has been a patient in acute mental health care for around 10 years. Here she talks about her own experience.

I have been in Mill View Hospital so many times I couldn’t actually tell you how many. I was last here about three years ago. The care had improved dramatically. It was like coming to a different place. A lot of it was about the practical issues being resolved but also the staff are very much more patient focussed.

When I spoke to other patients about care plans they would say ‘they keep banging on about care plans, I don’t want to talk about it anymore’. When you’re in a desperately awful state to have some person with a clipboard in front of you, you don’t want to take that responsibility for your own care you say ‘I don’t know, you sort it out’. Sometimes it is too much for a patient to think about.

I have sat in front of staff and known what answer to give to the questions they’re asking. I have very carefully and deliberately misrepresented my mental health to staff on a number of occasions and because I am intelligent and articulate I have been very successful at times. When I was admitted under Section, staff, patients, even the cleaning lady said to me ‘what on earth are you doing in here?’ So I got discharged quite quickly and ended up in A&E having taken an overdose.

I generally get very angry when I see news coverage about mental health. They make it out that people with mental health problems do not have any human rights. They assume that somebody with mental health problems is not intelligent; that you should be treated as a child not a capable adult. This is a hospital, not a prison. 

Whether I talk about my mental health depends on who I’m talking to. If it was in relation to work I wouldn’t mention it at all. I am an opera singer and that world can be quite volatile and stressful. I think it would put people off booking me if they knew I had been in a psychiatric ward, people would think I was flaky, unreliable. I’ve started to think about dating again but then I think, how would I tell someone all of that? If I had got to know someone and then told them I had mental health problems and never heard from them again, that would really hurt me.

I think the stigma of long term mental illness is worse now. The social stigma of having depression has almost completely lifted, it’s acceptable to take antidepressants for a short time and then you’re ok but not long term. I think that is a huge problem because people are saying you should be able to manage without medication, to come off them, but you can’t.

There are times where you do not actually know what you are doing and the strongest emotions that I have felt and I have seen is an extraordinary fear. It is extraordinarily frightening not to have control of your mind and I think when you are extraordinarily frightened then you go into fight, flight or freeze. When people are raging and these horrendous thoughts are going through your head, my reaction is freeze, but somebody else’s reaction might be to fight. It is terrifying having psychosis, seeing things you know aren’t real and not being able to be in control of your emotions. My violence has always turned inwards and I have been extremely frighteningly violent to myself. I think the most shocking example I have is when I spent the afternoon pouring boiling water over my arm, I was so badly burnt that all the skin was lifted off my wrist. It is that tension you get I have to find a release for. Now if I even get splashed with boiling water I think how did I manage to do that but you’re not in control of what you’re doing.

Generally speaking I am almost a completely different person now but I still do get ill. A few weeks ago something triggered my night terrors again. That triggered my psychosis and made me very ill, I self-harmed quite badly. That is the interesting thing, actually I am not that great, that was only four weeks ago I can cover it very well which is very dangerous. That is one of the key things on my care plan is in big bold letters is ‘Fiona will sound fine on the telephone’ but we’ve developed key words I can say which means I am in crisis. That’s because I have been so controlled throughout my life that I find it extremely hard to show emotion like that.


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