Written by Juliette Burton

Voices

“The night I was sectioned I sat with my mother, waiting”

#piggate distracted people from a lot of bad news, including the death of Michael O’Sullivan, a man with severe mental health problems who took his own life after being found “fit to work”. Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn has proposed a dedicated minister for mental health. How that might pan out remains to be seen, but something needs to happen, says Juliette Burton.

hedge labyrinthThe Mental Health Act was used to section more than 50,000 times in England between 2013 and 2014. That’s an increase of 30 per cent over the last 10 years.

I was sectioned back in 2002. That’s a while ago now. A time when Tony Blair was still Prime Minister, Pierce Brosnan was still James Bond and Cheryl then-not-yet-even-Cole was one of the girls in that band off Pop Stars: The Rivals.

About a fortnight before I was sectioned, my GP told me that unless I changed my behaviour, stopped exercising and ate more, I would be sectioned under the Mental Health Act for anorexia. He told me this would happen because, if I didn’t, I would die.

I didn’t care. That was kind of the intention.

The night I was sectioned I sat in my parents’ kitchen with my mother, waiting. The ambulance pulled up outside.

I was led into the ambulance and I just felt numb. I’d put up more of a protest when I had been sent to hospital voluntarily a year and a half before. This time I was resigned to what was to happen. It was all very quiet. I shut up and did what I was told. There seemed to be no other option.

My life was saved, absolutely. But if I’d not cared about dying before being sectioned, what was awaiting me afterwards?

“How could I admit that I was terrified, unsure how to pick back up a life that didn’t even feel like mine and piece it together?”

Aftercare in mental health treatment is vital. Let me explain.

Going into hospital or inpatient treatment of any kind is scary. I’ve done it four times and every time was frightening but I had to go because I couldn’t ‘do’ life. I couldn’t live in this world without wanting to self-destruct.

Hospital becomes the safe place: schedules, doctors, nurses, people who you grow to trust, grow to know you, who at least have some understanding of the conditions that brought you in there even if you don’t have a natural rapport. There is someone there 24 hours a day to help if you’re feeling things you’re struggling to feel, if your illness is raising its dirty little sodding minx-like head in your mind. There is someone there who, if you’re brave and want to get better, you can turn to.

But the day I left that hospital was an awful mix of emotions. I had to go back to the world and the life that brought me there in the first place. And I couldn’t take the hospital with me.

My aftercare back in 2002 wasn’t great. I remember having two visits from a stranger: a CPN (Community Psychiatric Nurse) who didn’t know me or my life. I had no idea how I was meant to open up to her in any real way about how I was doing. How could I admit that I was terrified, unsure how to pick back up a life that didn’t even feel like mine and piece it together? This jigsaw was missing so many pieces, and I was missing the hospital and falling apart inside.

Even if I had opened up to her, we only had two appointments. Nothing scheduled after that. So what good would it do? What relationship would it lead to? What help would come?

“Mental health is like riding a bike over rugged terrain with alligators and lions coming at you from all angles and other people riding their own bikes pushing and shoving you from all angles and then someone overhead starts pelting you with rocks.”

About three months after I was discharged from the hospital I’d been sectioned in, my anxiety skyrocketed. I began finding it hard to see people. I began to find it impossible to leave the house. I refused to leave home for five months for fear of seeing people, fear of judgement, of failure, of being left behind, of growing up.

Later that year, my compulsive overeating disorder suddenly kicked in and I became violently suicidal. Another year of my life had passed with things only getting worse psychologically. It was a relapse, into a darker place in my mind than I had been before being sectioned. I was sent to inpatient treatment again.

Being sectioned saved my life, but what happens after the urgent medical emergency is solved? There is still emergency; the terror of riding this ride called ‘life’ without an instruction manual.

None of us can solve our problems instantly and none of us can do them alone. Mental health is not like riding a bike, where you’re shown how to look after yourself and never forget. It’s more like riding a bike over rugged terrain with alligators and lions coming at you from all angles and other people riding their own bikes pushing and shoving you from all angles and then someone overhead starts pelting you with rocks.

How do you stay on the bike? Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I fall off and have to learn how to ride the bike again. Sometimes I have to find an entirely new way of riding the bike and sometimes I have to call out for stabilisers to be put on my wheels.

Yes, mental health costs the economy by causing some of the population to be unfit for work, yet mental health services in the UK are underfunded. By seeing mental health treatment as an expense rather than an economic investment, we’re all losing out.

www.julietteburton.co.uk
@JulietteBurton

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Written by Juliette Burton

Juliette Burton is a docu-comedian, actor, writer, thinker, dreamer, doer and person. She has a history of mental health problems and loves The Muppets. These two things are in no way linked.