‘My cousin Glen McNally’s body was found in the canal this week but he should not be dead. He should not have been allowed to leave the Mater Hospital one day after trying to kill himself. He was deemed fit by the doctors, he didn’t abscond or discharge himself against advice. He was given a clean bill of health, walked out the hospital doors and took his own life.’ Conor McNally, 28/4/14

This piece appeared in the journal.ie yesterday, you can have a read of the full content here. It saddened, scared and angered me to read this last night, all by equal measure. I don’t know the full story about this man, in fact I know nothing more than the circumstances outlined in the above article. I don’t know what he said to them in the hospital, or why they felt it was ok to let him leave. 
What I do know is this – my own experience has been so very similar. Six weeks ago I went to A&E desperate for help. I was off medication (by recommendation of my psychiatrist), my depression was worsening by the day, I couldn’t look after myself never mind my kids, my husband didn’t trust me to be left alone, and suicide was constantly on my mind. I was hurting myself daily. It took me weeks to realise that the situation really was extremely serious, but eventually, I did realise, so I asked for help. My GP referred me to A&E, I believe with the expectation that I would be admitted. I was not. I met with a doctor who I’d never seen before, who deemed me to be stressed, and sent me home with a prescription for xanax and a letter for a few days off work. 
In all my years working with a therapist, in all my dealings with my GP and various psychiatrists, I can hand on heart say I was never as visibly distressed as I was on that day. I told him I would hurt myself. I told him that it was a hell of a lot more than stress. Upset doesn’t begin to describe how I presented that day. And yet, he thought it was ok for me to be sent on my way, alone, knowing that there was no one waiting for me outside the door. I still can’t quite believe that it happened.
I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I left the hospital that day and rang my therapist. There was little she could do for me at the time, but she did manage to calm me down and help me work out how to get home, and how to look after myself and keep myself safe until my husband could come and get me (he was at home, a half hour drive away, with our two young kids). I have a lot of support – apart from my therapist and GP, I have an incredibly supportive family and good friends. My illness is not a secret, anyone who knows me knows about it. Despite all of that, despite all that support and years of therapy, I have never, ever, felt as hopeless, alone and terrified as I did that day walking out of the hospital. I truly believed there was nothing anyone else could do to help me, that things were never going to get better.
If I can be left feeling like that, considering all the support that I have, how can other people who don’t have the same level of support be expected to cope? I’m just one person. I know my story, and I know that various other people who read my blog have found themselves in a similar situation. In just one small circle, there is already far too much replication of the scenario I’ve just outlined – what does this say about the bigger picture? How many people are being let walk out of hospital, every day, desperate, alone and unsupported? How are they supposed to cope? How are they supposed to live?
Mental illness is real. It affects so many people, in so many ways. Yes, it can be incredibly difficult to treat, and treatment, in my experience at least, is slow and arduous. But it can be treated. It manifests very differently to phsyical illness, but needs to be taken every bit as seriously. Just as a physical illness can be life threatening, so too can a mental illness – it has the power to convince the mind that there is no hope, no way out, and that suicide is a real and valid option. Not only that, that suicide in fact makes sense. Mental illness can be life threatening. Sadly, all too often it ends in tragedy.
Why am I writing all this? Partly because I’m scared, and realising how lucky I’ve been, and how lucky I am to still be here. But mostly, I’m angry. More than angry. Resources have got to be put back into mental health. People have died, and will continue to die. That is not ok, not even close. Please, please, listen to what patients have to say. Listen to what people like Mental Health Reform have to say. Mental health services in this country are in severe crisis, and something has to give. Soon.

This article has 8 Comments

  1. Part 1
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    If you are thinking of taking your own life or harming yourself DON'T DO IT. Talk to somebody. A family member, a friend, a colleague, anyone. Talk to the Samaritans if you have to. My advice would be to get yourself to the A+E unit of a hospital that has a psychiatric unit if at all possible. If you are not successful, and luckily most attempts are not, you could do serious permanent harm to yourself. Also, avoid alcohol and drugs completely if you are thinking of making an attempt. I was so lucky to have survived and not to have done any permanent harm to myself. It was not my time to go though. The night is darkest before the dawn though.

    Anyway, this post really struck a chord with me. I once tried to take my own life by taking a huge overdose of a cocktail of psychiatric drugs washed down with vodka. I'm not a great believer in God etc that but something came to my rescue that night. I don't recall well what happened over the course of the night because I blacked out. I must have managed to get upstairs, undressed and into bed because I woke there the following morning. I spent the day in bed all alone feeling a mixture of remorse and terror wondering what I might have done to my body. I didn't contact anyone so I was totally alone that day. I didn't have any internal pain but I had a few injuries. I can't remember now if I slept the following night. I presume that my memory is foggy due to the drugs etc.

    The following day I decided to get medical help as I was very worried about myself. I called a relative and told her about the attempt. I then got a taxi to the nearest A+E. I was seen quickly and bloods were taken, then an ECG and I was put on a drip. The relative I have mentioned came and spent some time with me but eventually it got late and I told her to go home. I was left sitting in an interview room all night with someone outside the door. My phone had long died so I was isolated. Eventually a nurse brought a pillow so I could put my head on the table and try to sleep. I couldn't.

  2. Part 2
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    (I have had to split this comment into two parts because there seems to be a limit of 4096 characters. And I already did a lot of editing to get it down to 4096 characters and then that wouldn't be accepted either so I decided to split it in two).

    ============================================================

    The following morning I was put on a trolley in a cubicle. There was a security guard at the end of the cubicle the whole time. He was making me feel paranoid. It was only when I asked him did he say that he was watching over me, for fear that I would do something irrational I suppose. I wasn't planning it. I was seen briefly by a doctor and then the resident psychiatrist. I was asked if I felt remorse for what I had done. I said that I did. I was asked if I would attempt anything like it again. I said that I wouldn't. I spent the following night on a ward unguarded.

    The following day bloods were taken again. Later on another ECG was done and my heart was found to be normal. The psychiatrist met me again and asked me if I intended another attempt. I said no. Then the blood results came back and they were normal so I was discharged and allowed walk out the door alone. I travelled to the A+E of a hospital with a psychiatric unit. I was eventually seen by a doctor at 3am. He gave me a sedative and put me on a trolley. The following morning I was seen by a psychiatrist and admitted to the unit.

    The whole experience was a nightmare. What is worst is that I have rarely spoken about it since. I can just feel so ashamed. Some of medical staff that I encountered were amazing but some of them were quite unsympathetic. However, they are medically trained and don't know how to deal with mental illness. There is so much ignorance surrounding mental health though and I presume that a lot of doctors are not immune to that. It is the dark secret that people are ashamed of. I have had mental health issues in the past but I am well today. However, I never reveal the fact to people readily for fear of being judged or labelled as a bit "queer in the head" etc. When I got back to work I just had to make something up. Why is that? It is 2014 for fuck's sake! You know, it is amazing the way that comedians can respond to a heckler with something like "did you forget to take your medication today?". Like I say, ignorance and misunderstanding.

    Gerry.

    1. Gerry if it's ok with you I'd really like to share this on my 'over to you' page. It sounds like you had a horrendous time, but I'm so glad you were able to look after yourself and get the help you needed. I think others could do with reading that. Let me know what you think.

    2. Hi. That's no problem at all. I have kept a longer version of the same. I had to edit it down to 4,096 characters and then split it in two before I managed to post it. Anyway, I will send the long version to "sunny scattered at gmail" asap and then you are very welcome to post it in Over to You.

      Gerry.

  3. Hi Fiona, I hope the powers that be sit up and take notice. Your letter is well written.

    I told you about my Mum a while back, well back in the early 1980's she was discharged from a Dublin hospital after a second failed attempt on her life. We were worried sick about her that night and couldn't sleep. The next morning my Dad brought her to our gp who managed to get her into a psychiatric hospital where she got the help she needed, so sad to think things have not changed.

    Have been reading your posts on FB (I am Theresa Brown Hagan on there) so glad you are doing well at the moment x Oh and have added the green ribbon pic to my profile pic, but will have to change on Fibromyalgia day 12th May, we too are trying to get government etc. to listen to us too.

    1. Hi Therese, thankfully things are improving for me, I think I was a victim of unfortunate timing and circumstance as much as anything else, as my own consultant was off for so long. That said, there's no excuse for not having adequate contingency plans to deal with such a situation, especially when people present in crisis. Fingers crossed it won't be something I'll have to worry about again.

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