Marie Duffy

About 18 months ago I got sick. Very sick. I ended up in hospital, and was to stay there for almost nine months. I was embarrassed and ashamed and felt that I couldn’t tell anyone where I was. I told some people I was on holidays, others that I was away for work. But the truth was that I was on a psychiatric ward fighting for my life. I say fighting because that’s what I felt I was doing.

It all happened rather quickly. One minute I was bridesmaid at my sister’s wedding and the next thing I was inpatient on an acute psychiatric ward. It all happened so fast and in a number of weeks I unravelled in spectacular style.

At first I was afraid. I was so afraid of the thoughts that were going on in my head that I didn’t tell anyone. I kept it to myself. I’m very lucky and have great friends and family but couldn’t find the words to tell them how I was feeling so as far as they were concerned I was fine. But I wasn’t. I was far from fine and was in such a bad place that I just couldn’t find the words to explain how I was feeling. I believed that I would be better off dead and that my friends and family would be better off without me.

I was ashamed that I was in hospital and that I wasn’t coping.

Over the course of the nine months my Dr tried me on loads of different types of medications. Nothing seemed to take away the deep feeling of despair I was feeling every moment I was awake and that haunted my dreams at night. Despite being quite articulate normally, I just couldn’t find the words to describe to anyone what I was feeling. I was hopeless. I felt like I was never going to get better and most of all I felt abandoned in hospital while my friends and family and everyone else went about their lives.

9 months is a long time in anyone’s life. But 9 months on a psychiatric ward is unbearable and feels like a lifetime. There is little to do during the day with just one hour devoted to occupational therapy or activities such as meditation, art, or yoga. The rest of the time was spent sitting on your bed or sitting on the chair beside your bed.

The only regular thing on the ward was the giving out of the medication at breakfast, lunch and night time. We’d all queue up in a line eager to get our next fix of drugs.

During my stay in hospital I was put on a waiting list to see a psychologist. During my 9 months there I did not speak to a counsellor, psychologist or anyone about how I was feeling.

Because my depression wasn’t responding to medication my psychiatrist talked about the possibility of trying Electric Shock Treatment (ECT) Thankfully I didn’t try ECT, but I very nearly did as I was eager to try anything that would help me get my life back again.

At the moment I am attending a psychologist but have only 5 more sessions left. I understand that appointments are limited due to long waiting lists, but at the same time I know that I will need support after the 5 sessions.

My experience of the mental health services over the past 18 months is that it is trying to keep me from dying but are making very little effort to help me live.

As a service user I am extremely frustrated as to how the Irish mental health service works. I think it needs to be totally revolutionised. We need to start by helping people recover from mental illness, instead of patching them up and sending them out until the next time.

There is such stigma associated with mental illness and even though things are much better than they used to be I feel that we still have a long way to go. I feel that we need to talk openly about mental health and start to look at people with mental difficulties as ‘us’ instead of the ‘other’.

We need to have a more recovery focused mental health service. I am trying everything in my power to ensure that I don’t end up in a situation that I’m extremely unwell and taking my own life seems like an option again. But I will say that it’s difficult especially when the supports aren’t always there.

To start with we need to provide adequate funding for mental health services that both focuses on early intervention and recovery. I also feel that we need an authority that tackles suicide prevention like the Road Safety Authority does for road safety.

One suicide is one too many and although there is good work being done in the area of suicide prevention its not enough. We can do more!

I believe that we can reduce the high number of suicides in Ireland. It’s time we all came together and used our collective voices to let people know that suicide doesn’t have to be an option. We need to let people know that it’s ok not to be ok and it’s perfectly ok to have to ask for help.

You can read more of Marie’s work at her blog, fake tan and foundation

This article has 1 Comment

  1. Yeah, I had a friend who made a suicide attempt and ended up in hospital for a month. The focus was very short-term..just on keeping her safe in the psychiatric ward and heavily medicating her to sedate her essentially. There seemed to be no after-care for her..no supports in the community but then, that’s the whole problem in the first place. The old psychiatric hospitals were shut down and the plan was to have mental health services in the community and only hospitalise someone in crisis but the mental health infrastructure is simply not there. The funding was not put in place by successive governments and indeed, €12m was taken out of the already paltry budget of €35m for mental health this year.

    I think it’s wrong to heavily medicate people as opposed to actually listen to their emotional distress. They have a voice and should be given a say in their treatment. I think that patients’ sense of agency is actually taken away from them within the inpatient mental health unit. It disincentivises them, infantilises them rather than empowering then to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives in the future.

    I personally have found the mental health system to be very rigid-that you’re just given a diagnostic label and there’s no such thing as teaching you coping skills to deal with your symptoms. The whole focus seems to be on problem-solving; in spite of the fact that a solution might not be readily apparent. Basically an attitude of “get on with it, pull yourself together” even from mental health professionals. When I complained about not finding therapy unhelpful, I was simply told to find another one, that I might not have found the right one yet.

    Oh and when I was experiencing suicidal ideation, the focus was solely on reducing my medication so that I didn’t have the means to make a suicide attempt. It was cold and clinical and that lack of compassion is the whole problem. All I wanted was to be listened to..to be told that my emotional distress was real, that it mattered and that I was going to get help. It was at this point where I became totally disillusioned and started doing my own research to help myself. I found a suicide prevention online-used it, didn’t make a suicide attempt- but I don’t understand why my GP didn’t give me a suicide prevention plan in the first place as it’s only basic and anyone can understand it.

    I found good psychology books with coping skills and started using them and I think I’ve made progress but it’s really only down to my own resilence to be honest. I don’t know why it’s made so hard-why these barriers are errected that actually prevent people from making progress.

    Pharmaceutical companies have a lot of influence in the mental health sector. There’s less profit in therapy than drugs and that’s what it boils down to. Ireland is one of the most expensive countries in the Eurozone for prescription medication. Therapy is costly and that’s why there’s a massive public waiting list for it. Inpatient mental health care is also expensive so really, providing care in the community would work out cheaper in the long-run but again, that would require some long-term thinking on the part of the government.

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