‘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.