There was an article in yesterday’s Guardian that revealed that many anorexic patients from England are being sent to Scotland for treatment due to the lack of available facilities here.
The article said that, “Mental health experts voiced deep concern about the trend and said it could damage patients’ chances of recovery, increase their sense of isolation through the separation from their families and even increase their risk of dying.”
Now I know from my own experience that I would have found this practice devastating. I was an inpatient at the YCED for nine months in 2011 and it was a terrifying and, at times, lonely experience. There were constant injections, humiliating experiences like being accompanied in the shower, having to be in a wheelchair despite having legs that were functional and that’s not to mention the terror of mealtimes. Yes, there were some brilliant nurses there to talk to and yes, I made some brilliant friends on the ward – but not having my family close by to support me and remind me of my ongoing life outside the hospital? Unthinkable!
The YCED was an adult ward and had 20 beds and a long waiting list. I know how fortunate I was to have been given one of those beds. The policy there was that if you were above a BMI of 13.5 (I think) and you didn’t try to help yourself get better, you’d be asked to leave so someone else could have the bed who was more willing to be saved. There was often a lack of nurses as critical or violent patients needed round-the-clock supervision by two staff. The focus was on refeeding but also there was talking and body image therapy along with dietetics lessons and occupational therapy. I am in no doubt that being there saved my life. I was so, so lucky to have a bed.
The idea of being sent so far away from my loved ones is devastating. Anorexia is a vicious illness that affects your whole way of thinking, not just the food you eat. You think of yourself as unlovable, not worthy of attention and entirely unremarkable without your thinness to help you stand out. How abandoned you would feel if your family struggled to visit? It could only confirm your suspicions about yourself. And more – so much of my motivation to get better was not for myself (at the start at least) but because I could see how upset my family and friends were and I wanted to not be the cause of that. Take that away and I would have had to have admitted I deserved to get better for myself – a hard first step for tackling a mental illness.
Of course not everyone on the ward was as lucky as me. Not everyone had the warm, support that I had. The visitors and the people trying to understand how I was feeling – but for God’s sake – we need to do something to tackle this situation. The lack of facilities for mental health care can’t go on like this. We’re putting people’s lives at risk…just in the same way as if they were being sent hundreds are miles away to get treatment for life-threatening physical illness.
The sooner people understand the importance of mental health care, the safer the next generation will be.