Prone restraint in mental health hospital

My partner and I recently finished Season 4 of Orange is the New Black (highly recommend), and one episode particularly resonated with me. In fact, it made me cry, and I’m not a crier.

The episode centred around an inmate named Poussey, who, in the midst of an ‘incident’ within the prison, was forcibly held to the ground by a prison guard for an extended period of time, whilst the prison guard was being tackled by another inmate.

My partner had no idea what the result of this act would be. I knew, through my work within Public Law and mental health, and I knew that the use of such restraint can bring about death.

Prone restraint is where a person is held to the ground in a face-down position and is physically prevented from moving from that position. Too much force and the result can be fatal. The concern is that prone restraint can result in dangerous compression of the chest and airways, thus placing the person being restrained at a huge risk.

The majority of NHS Trust policies on the use of such restraint suggest that it ought to be used only as a last result, following unsuccessful attempts at de-escalation. Unfortunately, I am aware of incidents where prone restraint appears to be used as a first port of call, often on those with severe learning disability, and often in mental health hospital.

I appreciate that professionals within such a setting must keep themselves, the service user and other patients’ safe, but it is frightening that use of prone restraint remains commonplace, and remains the norm, despite policy suggesting that it should be used only in the most extreme circumstances.

There is a reason that prone restraint ought to be used as a final option – in 1998, a 38 year old gentleman named David Bennett was held in the prone restraint position by 5 staff members for a 25 minute period, resulting in his death. An independent inquiry (bbc article 18/06/13) found that Mr Bennett died as a direct result of prolonged face-down restraint and the amount of forced used by staff.

Did this end the use of prone restraint? No. According to Mind (2013), there have been 13 reported incidents of restraint related deaths in the UK since this. This figure is only for those detained under the MHA 1983 and included only those deaths which were actually reported. The figure is therefore likely to be higher, particularly taking into account the years following the study.

Shockingly, as someone living and working in the North East of England, Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust responded to a freedom of information request from Mind and stated that, in 2011-2012, prone restraint was used 923 times.

This is not uncommon, however, with Stewart et al (2009) finding that manual restraint is used 5 times per month on an average mental health ward. According to Mind, one Trust which responded to an FOI request stated there had been 38 incidents of prone restraint, whilst another said there had been over 3000 incidents.

Mind’s recommendation from the 2013 research was, of course, that the government ought to end the use of face down physical restraint.

Has this happened? Of course it hasn’t. The figures speak for themselves. Prone restraint continues to be used, on a large scale, and for as long as this is the case, there will be more and more restraint related deaths.

Not only ought the risk of death be enough for professionals to use every possible de-escalation technique available, but the use of such restraint can cause physical injury and psychological harm. Mind (2013) provided a quote from someone who had experienced such restraint; “it made me feel like a criminal, like I had done something wrong, not that I was ill and needed to get better”.

The free reign to use prone restraint is frightening. The fact that it is used to varying amounts across the country is worse, because it suggests either that instances of prone restraint often aren’t reported, or that staff aren’t provided with the same training across the board. I fear that both are correct.

Those detained under the MHA 1983 are in hospital, usually, for assessment and/or treatment. The mental health hospital ought to be viewed as a place of safety, where care is provided to those in crisis. The possibility of attending hospital and dying there due to an excessive use of force by those who were supposed to be caring for you, is a frightening concept, but it is one that is all too real.

Patients need to feel safe in the hospital environment. The use of prone restraint must be ended.

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Mental health service closures

Whilst working within mental health and mental capacity law, I’ve found that there are many situations which really strike me personally. In particular, I have developed an interest in wrongdoings within mental health services, because I can see the situation from the perspective of the outpatient service user, having been involved with services since 2012.

Access to services is a huge issue at the moment. I was rather lucky in that I was able to gain access to services quite quickly through IAPT, though, once my course of CBT had ended, I was basically left in the dark.

I read something on twitter the other day from a service user, stating that he’d missed an appointment because the letter from the hospital had taken so long to arrive. I mean, in 2016, how is that still happening? It may seem like a small thing to some, most likely to the hospital, but these appointments, in times of both crisis and calm, provide routine and stability for service users.  When I was making regular trips to appointments with mental health services, it gave me a sense of comfort just to know that I was doing something. Had I missed an appointment because of the appointment letter being sent by carrier pigeon, particularly with my anxiety when it was at its worst, that would have been one of the worst things that could happen; from the outside looking in, it seems that mental health services can’t empathise with this or many others’ experiences.

Access to inpatient services is where this real division of interest is shown. We’re all aware of the distinct lack of beds within mental health units, which are needed by those who are usually in crisis and cannot be treated effectively in the community. Yet despite this known issue, more and more mental health units and hospitals are closing every year.

According to The Kings Fund, ‘Mental health under pressure’ (November 2015) 40% of mental health trusts experienced a reduction in income in 2013/14 and 2014/15. The analysis by The Kings Fund confirms what many of us interested in this area already know – there are more and more people being detained under the Mental Health Act (a 9.8% increase in 2014/15 compared to the previous year); a lot of these actually receive poor care, particularly when in crisis (only 14% of patients say that they received appropriate care in a crisis); the number of beds is decreasing, meaning that services cannot meet the demand; and, despite this, mental health units continue to be closed down. So, what is the outcome from that? People are either left without the help that they need, or are detained in a hospital somewhere far from home, far from normality, and far from comfort. According to a Freedom of Information request by the Community Care and BBC News, 4,447 patients were sent out of area by 37 NHS mental health providers in 2014/15. 88% of the 4,447 were sent out of area due to beds being full.

I have been looking in to closures of mental health units and, even if you just give it a quick google, you can see the scale of the problem. By way of example, in October 2015 Bootham Park Hospital, York’s only public adult mental health hospital, was closed following a report by the CQC, with 5 days’ notice being given. How many people did this affect? 30 inpatients and 400 outpatients. When something like this happens, particularly with such short notice, it must be like being abducted, and ripped away from everything you knew. In February 2016, Outpatient services resumed, after a huge amount of local pressure. However, for those patients in crisis, requiring inpatient care, they, and their families, are expected to travel 50 miles.

50 miles isn’t the worst it could be. There are instances of people being placed 300 miles from home. But, when these patients are very unwell, to be placed in hospital in a completely new area, in my opinion, surely can’t help them in the short term. Whilst detained under the Mental Health Act, a patient can be granted section 17 leave from their Responsible Clinician. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to enjoy leave in an area you have never been before. Leave is a way of readying patients for discharge, but, certainly for those with anxiety, going out in the community in an unknown area would be incredibly daunting, and could even be a bit of a step-back. It’s hard to see how having leave in a town 100, 200, 300 miles from home is going to prepare you for living in your community.

Another example of mental health unit closures, resulting in patients having to travel, and one that is actually happening right now, is The Welland Centre, in Market Harborough. I came across this closure in an article a couple of weeks ago – The Welland Centre, which provides adult community health services, hosts clinics for up to 450 patients. That’s 80 patients each week and approximately 4000 appointments each year, and patients will be expected to travel elsewhere to access the help that they need.

One patient of the service has developed a petition to save the service – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/131744 – which currently has 764 signatures, one of those, of course, being my own. Should the Welland Centre close, patients would be expected to travel for one hour and a quarter to reach the service. For those who do not drive, like myself, this is two bus journeys. When I was having regular appointments with mental health services at Warwick Uni, I had to travel by bus from where I lived in Leamington Spa onto campus. Sometimes, when I was feeling particularly low, I simply couldn’t do it. I had so much anxiety around the University campus, the bus, the students, that I physically couldn’t get on the bus to get to the appointment sometimes. I probably never would have attended any appointments if I had to take two buses.

Now, putting my legal hat on, one big issue for me in situations involving closures of services, is that patients, families, and those who simply have an interest, do not know that the law can assist. When people are informed that their service, usually a service they have used for many years, is closing, they can feel alone. People generally don’t know (and, to be honest, why would they) that there are possible ways to legally challenge the decision to close the service – to go back to Bootham Park hospital in York (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/mar/14/the-nhs-mental-health-hospital-closed-with-just-five-days-warning), lawyers are representing the families of some former patients of the hospital and are seeking a judicial review of the “forced closure” of the service.

Judicial review is where a case is taken to the High Court, and it is argued that a decision of a public body is unlawful. This could be that the body has acted beyond its powers, or has not taken something into account etc. Obviously, there is no guarantee that any challenge would be successful, but I think that it is vital that there is something that can be done legally, at least to try to stop any decision to close a service.

That is why I really enjoy working within this area of law. Despite all of the issues with mental health services, and despite the general thought that lawyers are cold and can’t help real people, I like to think that in this area we actually could make a difference and, if a difference can’t be made, it is always nice to say we tried.

 

Welcome back

So, it has been a loooong time since I have posted a blog, and there are many reasons why.

I think one of my last posts surrounded my attempt at positivity after discovering that the law firm I worked for in mid 2015 was making redundancies. To cut a long story short, I loved the job and had been getting to grips with mental health law – the firm shut down, and I was left with no clue what would happen next.

I felt so strongly about my wish to work within mental health law, but, at the time, there was a distinct lack of such roles in the North East. I had loved working within mental health law; representing the vulnerable and ensuring that their rights are upheld, I feel, is one of the most important things that we, as a society, ought to do.

In November 2015, everything took a turn for the better, and I took a role at a national law firm in Newcastle. I have been there since that date and, whilst I didn’t think it was possible to better my previous job, it is amazing. The role is Public Law Paralegal, meaning that I assist directly on cases, and get to have a lot of client contact, which I love. I hadn’t had experience of public law, though my role within it centres largley around Community Care and Mental Capacity. I feel just as passionate in this role, as, again, I view it as being incredibly worthwhile. I do also still get to do some mental health work, which, obviously, I love!

Mental Capacity is an incredibly interesting area of law, and involves those who lack capacity to make a certain decision for themselves, and a decision being taken in their best interests. I’ll post a lot more about this in later blogs.

So, another reason I haven’t posted is because life has simply gotten in the way. I have just finished first year of the Legal Practice Course, having taken (and aced may I say) a module in Mental Health Law, and, now I have gotten fully to grips with my new job, I feel that I’ve got a good balance. I’ve even taken on afew voluntary roles, which I’m really happy about – currently, I work with Parkinson’s UK, Tiny Lives and Rethink Mental Illness.

I hope that you can forgive my disappearance, and I’m looking forward to writing more blogs and getting to grips with all things mental health, mental capacity, and law.

Thanks for having me back!

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Oh the places you’ll go…

“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go…”
Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

For those who regularly read my bog and twitter feed (@AC_MentalHealth) you will have noticed that there has been a distinct lack of posts recently.

Lying in bed last night, I stumbled across the above quote and felt that it was more than apt to my current situation. Things may not go to plan, but it is me in the driving seat and I have control of which way I steer.

It’s pretty obvious that I absolutely love my job. I started working in a regional office of a London firm in March of this year as an Admin Assistant. The hope was to work my way up with the firm and, in a perfect world, secure the elusive training contract that every law graduate in the country would also be applying for.

Six months on, I have worked my way up to the position of Mental Health Caseworker with Admin responsibilities. When I tell people my role, a lot of people have absolutely no idea what it means. A few of my family, through no fault of their own, simply lack of knowledge, thought that mental health law meant that someone with mental health issues had committed a crime and mental health lawyers try to ‘get them off’.

The role of a mental health lawyer is to ensure that the rights of those with mental health problems are upheld. For me, it’s about protecting the most vulnerable in society. Now, some people with mental health problems are detained under the Mental Health Act if they are really unwell, but that doesn’t at all mean that the person has done something wrong. There is something called a ‘forensic section’ which deals with those who have committed crimes, but, generally, those detained under the MHA are just like you or I and Doctors simply feel that they ought to be in hospital for assessment (section 2) or treatment (section 3). There are other sections but these are the most common.

Now, on Facebook recently, a fellow Warwick University Graduate who works as a mental health paralegal in London, posted a status saying that he was representing someone detained under the MHA at a Hospital Managers’ Hearing the next day. It’s safe to say that I was incredibly jealous! Then, someone who I don’t know, commented on the status saying that he was a junior doctor in psychiatry and asked why the person was detained. My friend said that the gentleman had schizophrenia with paranoid ideations. To this, the JUNIOR DOCTOR IN PSYCHIATRY replied “then why are you contesting it. Dude needs help”. Well, that got me angry, because help isn’t always a hospital.

The role of the mental health solicitor/paralegal is to advance the rights of the client, so if they say that they would like to be discharged from hospital then this is what we tell the Tribunal or Hospital Managers’ when the person appeals their section, with arguments added that discharge would be appropriate. We’re not ‘getting people out’.

For some people, being in hospital can make them worse. Especially if the ward is particularly disruptive, and where drugs are rife that can make things a lot harder. Assessing/treating those with mental disorder should not be about keeping someone in hospital until a doctor decides that they’re better. It’s about the individual, who may find it helps more to be at home with community psychiatric support, than in the often chaotic surroundings of a ward.

Anyway, I digress. What I’m trying to say, and what I could have said in eight words is, I really love working within mental health law.

And that’s when the rug of contentment was pulled right from underneath my feet…

All employees at my Firm were recently given notice of redundancies. Such an unexpected life-changing shock isn’t the best for someone with anxiety disorder. For the past week, I have had the worst headaches, and I never get headaches. Although, interestingly, there was no headache on Wednesday when I had my University day. It’s difficult because I got to the point where the stress of not knowing what was going on was really starting to become an issue, but I felt that I couldn’t say anything because of that fear of mentioning anything related to my own mental health having a detrimental impact on my future, as if it would show that I “can’t hack it”. Of course, that’s me being ridiculous but it is how the vast majority of those with mental health issues feel.

When I told my Grandma that I was potentially losing my job, she said “well you’ll just have to get another one won’t you”. God, if only it was that simple! Basically, there are no mental health paralegal jobs being advertised for in the whole of the North East, so that isn’t looking great.

All I can hope is that I will be able to continue doing the work that I love, wherever that may be. For now, I need to focus on my own mindfulness and wellbeing. One thing is for sure though, I won’t give up because I’ve worked too hard for that.

Dr Seuss is right, and every time I see my #semicolonproject tattoo, I’m reminded that I can conquer anything.

semicolon project

Community Treatment Orders – What are they and are they effective?

It is possible for someone who has been detained under the Mental Health Act 1983 (MHA) to be discharged from hospital and placed on a Community Treatment Order. CTOs were introduced in late 2008. Effectively, a CTO is the least restrictive option for providing treatment, as it allows people to be monitored whilst remaining in the community, as opposed to being detained in hospital further.

A CTO can be placed on a patient detained under section 3 or section 37 MHA 1983. These are the only sections under which someone may be placed on a community treatment order. To be clear, section 3 lasts for an initial period of six months. This can be renewed for a further six months and then yearly following that. Someone will be placed on section 3 if they are well known to mental health services or have been in hospital before, or if they have previously been detained under section 2 for assessment. Section 3 is for treatment. Section 37, on the other hand, is a hospital order imposed by a court, with the recommendation of two doctors, instead of a prison sentence. Section 37 lasts for an initial period of six months, renewable for a further six months, and subsequently yearly.

The Responsible Clinician (the person responsible for the person’s treatment) can discharge a patient from hospital and provide supervised treatment whilst the person is in the community. Prior to granting a CTO, the Responsible Clinician must ensure that certain conditions are met: the person has a mental condition that requires medical treatment; treatment is required for the person’s health or safety, or for the protection of others; the person is able to continue their treatment in the community; the person can access the right treatment in the community; and, it is justified that the person can be recalled to hospital if necessary. The Responsible Clinician ought also to consider the risk of a deterioration in the person’s condition were they not detained in a hospital.

If necessary, the Responsible Clinician can recall the person back to hospital. Recall could occur if the conditions set out prior to discharge are not complied with or if the person becomes unwell again. One condition may be that the person must continue taking their medication, or must reside at a certain place.

If recalled back to hospital, a person can be held for up to 72 hours whilst what should happen next is deliberated. It may be that the CTO is revoked and the person can be placed back on the section that they were on prior to discharge into the community. Alternatively, if all conditions are complied with and the person is deemed fit to be fully discharged by the Responsible Clinician, then the person can be discharged from the CTO and the conditions of that will no longer operate.

The purpose of the CTO when introduced was to end the ‘detrimental cycle’ of patients being discharged from hospital, stopping taking their medication and ending up back in hospital. In effect, the CTO could be viewed as a practice run for discharge where the risk of relapse and re-detention is (hopefully) reduced. According to the Minister of State when discussing supervised community treatment, “the power of recall provides the means to tackle relapse, and to avoid its potentially adverse consequences for the patient or someone else. Recall to hospital allows patients to be treated quickly and to return to the community straightaway if it is clinically safe to do so”.

It is possible for the Responsible Clinician to grant the patient a section 17 long-term leave of absence, rather than a CTO, and the Responsible Clinician must ‘consider’ whether the patient should be dealt with using long term leave. Research (T Burns et al) has actually shown that, when compared with patients who are on section 17 leave, the imposition of CTOs does not reduce the rate of readmission to hospital, with around one third of each group being readmitted within a year. The findings of this study backed up two previous studies that had also found no benefit from CTOs in reducing readmission. This conclusion has, however, been disputed by a number of people.

The study came at a time when most mental health services were reorganised thus the care of those participating in the study was passed to psychiatrists who were not necessarily familiar with the trial. It also did not assess to what extent people took their prescribed medication – something which, of course, is incredibly important when looking at re-admission.

CTOs are established in over 70 jursidictions and have existed since the 1980’s/90’s in most parts of North America and Australasia. The law on CTOs does not explicitly state what standards should be used to assess their effectiveness, though frequency of contact with out-patient services, victimisation, arrest, mortality and quality of life tend to be used in studies testing their effectiveness.

In 2008, when CTOs were first introduced, Lawson-Smith et al stated that “Community Treatment Orders should arguably be used on a restricted group of patients who suffer from severe and relapsing mental illness, who quickly disengage and are repeatedly re-admitted’. It has become clear that CTOs are not used on a limited basis at all – according to statistics from The Health and Social Care Information Centre, between 2008 and March 2014, the number of people subject to CTOs has seen an increase of 206%. In that same period, the number of people detained under section 3 MHA 1983 has decreased. The link between this reduction and the increase in CTOs appears more than coincidental, given that patients subject to a CTO can be recalled to hospital, rather than re-assessed under the MHA.

In 2009, The Guardian published an article entitled ‘Hazards of a Health Safeguard’. The article included a lady who was subject to a CTO, one of the conditions of which was that she had to have blood tests every two months to prove that she had been taking her medication. She stated that doing so made her feel like “a laboratory rat”. Whilst it is understandable that those subject to CTOs will feel some frustration, the conditions are there for a reason – for the health or safety of the person or for the protection of others. If someone is discharged entirely from hospital and does not take their medication, they will simply end up being re-admitted. These CTOs operate to try to curtail that trend and, whilst CTOs have received stark criticism, the one major study on them (mentioned above) is in fact fraught with criticism. And, with regard to how those subject to CTOs actually feel about them, there appears to be no research at all on this in the UK.

Research on the effectiveness of CTOs in improving the quality of life of those subjected to them has been conducted in other countries – it looked at 752 people and concluded that “results from the trials showed overall that compulsory community treatment was no more likely to result in better service use, social functioning, mental state or quality of life compared with standard ‘voluntary’ care”. The research did, positively, find that “people receiving compulsory community treatment were less likely to be victims of violent or non-violent crime”. We should perhaps not place too much weight on this research, given that the quality of evidence for the main outcomes of the trials were recorded as ‘low to medium grade’.

At this stage, the only conclusion that can be drawn regarding the effectiveness of CTOs is that further research is needed. There is strong opposition towards CTOs, yet many professionals view them as necessary – placing a patient on a CTO means that they cannot deteriorate to the point where it is necessary for them to spend a long period in hospital. If the patient does not meet their conditions then they can be recalled to hospital, stopping them from going for X amount of months without their medication and, in most cases, exacerbating their mental health issues.

Those who are placed on a CTO, like the woman mentioned in The Guardian article above, may view the conditions placed on them as unnecessarily restrictive. It is understandable that it may seem this way, given that the patient is not returning to ‘normality’ per se. However, being able to live in the community rather than a hospital has to be viewed as much less restrictive. In effect, it is giving patients a chance and I don’t see how that could be a bad thing.

Me, myself and Anxiety

“The truth is that anxiety is at once a function of biology and philosophy, body and mind, instinct and reason, personality and culture. Even as anxiety is experienced at a spiritual and psychological level, it is scientifically measurable at the molecular level and the physiological level. It is produced by nature and it is produced by nurture. It’s a psychological phenomenon and a sociological phenomenon. In computer terms, it’s both a hardware problem (I’m wired badly) and a software problem (I run faulty logic programs that make me think anxious thoughts)”               Scott Stossell, ‘My Age of Anxiety’

The major problem when it comes to Mental Health issues is not the person, not the illness, but the fact that such issues are surrounded by a cloud of silence and stigma.

Mixed anxiety and depression is the most common mental health disorder in Britain, with 9.7% of the population experiencing it.

During my second year of University, the pressure of exams was looming and I found myself in a place I had never previously been – one filled with anxiety, feelings of failure and a constant fear that I would never be good enough to embark upon the career that I had worked so hard for.

At the time that my journey with anxiety began, I was putting in 14 hour stints at the library – that seemed like normality for the majority of students at my University. I thought that I was fine, I had always prided myself on my emotional strength. That was, until it came to the date of my Contract Law exam and I had a panic attack in the library whilst I was attempting to read through my revision notes. It had taken me around two hours to read one page and it was clear that something was wrong. I didn’t want to have a panic attack, but I couldn’t stop it and, honestly, I had no idea what was going on. I didn’t know what a panic attack was, but I was left shaking and crying uncontrollably on the quiet floor of the library, 2 hours before what was, in my mind, the most important exam of my life. Of course, it wasn’t- that was the anxiety talking.

I had been revising for around two months – I should have been ready for exams. I was ready, but my brain would not let me pass this wall of panic in front of me.

Funnily enough, I actually had no idea that there was a problem with my mental health until the day that I had that first panic attack. Following that, things started to click in to place and I realised that, for the two months prior to that panic attack, revision had taken over my life and I was rarely eating and barely sleeping. My room was a mess (which was very unlike me) and, in all honesty, I was too.

I sought help from my GP, and utilised the help of IAPT. I was given medication to help to control my anxiety (Citalopram worked really well for me and I, thankfully, haven’t had to chop and change pills to find what suits me). I attended Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which taught me to change the way that I thought. Apparently, doing this means that I am in a minority – a YouGov survey of 2300 adults in Britain carried out for Mental Health Awareness Week 2014 found that one fifth of people who have experienced anxiety do nothing to cope with it. Indeed, fewer than one in ten people have sought help from their GP to deal with anxiety.

At first, admitting that I had a problem made me feel that I was weak. Once I had come to terms with my anxiety disorder and felt that I could tell those closest to me about it, I found that most people’s instant reaction would be to ask ‘Well, what are you anxious about?’ There was absolutely no malicious intent behind that question, it was just a question that simply could not be answered. As Critchley (2009) has stated, “If fear is fearful of something particular and determinate, then anxiety is anxious about nothing in particular and is indeterminate”. It can be difficult to come to terms with the fact that you have anxiety whilst at the same time having absolutely no idea why.

Now that my anxiety disorder is behind me and I have learnt to cope with any feelings of anxiety that I may experience, I feel slightly angry when I look back at that time of my life – that I didn’t know that I had a problem until it was too late. If only more people spoke out about mental health issues, and the help available were promoted further, people may not have to wait for their mental health issues to manifest themselves externally before they are able to receive help.

People simply do not talk enough about mental health issues and, even whilst writing this, I feel a sense of worry that people may look down upon me because of my experience with anxiety. That is wrong.

In the UK, one in four people will experience some kind of mental health illness in the course of a year. That’s a lot of people, and it’s likely that the majority of those people are too frightened to speak about their experiences, for fear of discrimination and being ridiculed.

We need to raise awareness of mental health issues and let people know that it is ok to speak out about their experiences. Speaking of your experiences with a mental health issue, whilst a bit daunting at first, is actually incredibly refreshing and, you never know, you could be the difference between someone suffering in silence or attending their GP and getting the help that they need.

During Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I learnt more about what a panic attack was, and what the early signs of an attack were for me personally. Some techniques which helped me included focusing on something other than the attack. It used to be that I would be so worried and anxious that I would have a panic attack that I brought one on myself. My therapist told me to focus on colours, perhaps the colours of different leaves on a tree. I personally preferred to rub tea tree oil or some other scent on my wrists and simply focus on smelling that. It sounds so simple but it really did work.

Another simple thing that can make a huge difference is to talk about any issues you may be having with those around you. I was able to talk to my friends and my partner who were incredibly helpful and, as some of my friends also had mental health issues of their own, I was able to use some of their advice (the smelling scent distraction actually came from my best friend whose mum is an aromatherapist).

I also really like ‘The Quiet Place’ at http://thequietplaceproject.com/thequietplace which had the effect of basically bringing me back to normality. For me, my anxiety was mainly linked to exam stress and the general hardship of life. The Quiet Place is great as it allowed me to take a step back and really put my fears into perspective, the majority of which were totally irrational.

Mental Health is no longer something that should only be spoken about behind closed doors and I hope that we, as a society, are now moving in the right direction towards a better understanding of mental health issues and a more accepting approach towards those who suffer. In talking about mental health issues, we raise awareness and it is that awareness of such issues that will help those suffering to get the help that they need.

I have struggled with anxiety and have overcome it, hopefully by speaking out we can help others to do the same.

Police cells as ‘places of safety’

According to an article in today’s @guardian Home Secretary Theresa May has pledged up to £15m to provide health-based alternatives for the 4000 people per year who spend time in detention in police cells under the Mental Health Act.

Currently, people detained under the MHA can be held in a hospital or a police station for up to 72 hours, with the premise being that a police station is a place of safety.

police-cell

Section 135 empowers police officers to enter private premises (with a warrant) to remove a person suspected of needing an urgent mental health assessment. Section 136 gives power to the police to remove someone from a public place to a ‘place of safety’ where, under the Mental Health Act, they can be detained for up to 72 hours. In around one third of cases, the ‘place of safety’ is a police cell.

Under the new policing and sentencing bill which is due to be released next week, the use of police cells to detain children with mental health problems will be banned.

This comes soon after research published by the Centre for Mental Health in late 2014. The research was commissioned by the Department of Health and the Home Office and found that for many people, being detained by the police was a frightening experience. That does not really come as a surprise – I know that I certainly wouldn’t choose to spend time in a police cell and Theresa May appears to be on the right track that people with mental health issues should not be ‘locked up’. This is particularly so given the report’s statement that “we found broad agreement among all those who worked with or had been subject to sections 135 and 135 that police custody should seldom if ever be used as a ‘place of safety’… there was widespread agreement that the use of these sections with children and young people was especially problematic”.

Whilst this Tory plan to put more funding into creating more suitable places of safety for young people with mental health issues came as a nice surprise to me, it does only apply to children. The new legislation will, however, ensure that police cells are only used as a place of safety for adults if the person’s behaviour is so extreme that they cannot otherwise be safely managed. Immediately, my mind asks what on earth ‘so extreme’ refers to and whose call it is as to when behaviour meets that threshold. I guess only time will tell with that one.

I think that it would be a good starting point to have age-appropriate places of safety. Of course, the legislation discussed above is more concerned with people under the age of 18, who are therefore classed as more vulnerable. But what about older people? I can say with conviction that a police cell absolutely would not be a suitable place for my 81 year old grandma.

We won’t know the exact ins and outs until the bill is set out in next week’s Queen’s speech but for now it is suggested that the bill will reduce the current 72 hour maximum period of detention and will enable places other than police cells and health-based alternatives to be ‘places of safety’.

In utilising police cells for the purpose of detention under the Mental Health Act, it automatically feels as though the person detained has done something wrong when, of course, in the vast majority of cases they have not. When you think of a police cell you don’t think of it as a place of safety, you think of it as a place for punishment, regardless of what its purpose actually is. I understand that sometimes there simply aren’t enough beds to go around but surely a prison cell can’t be the only alternative? Imagine how daunting it would be to be taken from a public place and put into a prison cell, ostensibly for your own safety. I know that I would be beside myself and would probably be quite scared that I was being accused of some sort of a crime. Do people with mental health issues really need these extra levels of hardship when what we should be doing is re-assuring them that they are safe and protected, but also that they have done absolutely nothing wrong. This could be particularly important given the fact that after the detention period there will be a mental health assessment. We ought to be reducing stress-levels, not increasing them.

If those with a physical illness were turned away from hospital due to overcrowding and were taken to a police cell, there would be a massive outcry. Shockingly, it is estimated that between 20% – 40% of police time is spent dealing with people with mental health issues. Needless to say, the correct place for someone with a mental health problem is not a police cell and the best people to look after them are not police officers.

Let us hope that Theresa May puts her words in to actions and we see more health-based and perhaps community-based places of safety for the mentally ill.