Collateral Damage


Treatment of more complex disorders is expensive and patients often find they are put on a cocktail of drugs and left to it.

This is what happened to me in 2004 and it took years for me to get off all the meds they carelessly prescribed. Plus, some very dubious diagnoses were flying about when I was on a combination of behaviour and health-altering drugs.

How on earth can an accurate assessment even be made when you weigh less than seven stone because the meds have destroyed your stomach lining? Yes, I’m sure I was ‘challenging’, but I think that was due to the trauma and malnutrition I went through at the hands of services, and because of all the botched treatment along the way.

My health never truly recovered, and I remain unable to work. Here are some of the questions I’d like to put to psychiatric services:

  • Is it not much more expensive, disabling people, than providing effective long term treatment?
  • How much does it cost the UK economy, turning previously productive individuals into walking corpses with multiple health issues caused by side effects?
  • And when they are trying to slap on another label, as they are at the moment, who is that for? Me, or them?

Sometimes I feel the labels they dish out are little more than a form of scrapheaping, with no hope of recovery. Worse than this, I fear the labelling has at times been a form of institutional abuse, a means of covering up past clinical negligence by pointing the finger at the patient and their dysfunction.

Paranoid? Don’t think so. My adverse reaction to medications is clearly documented. And so are all the attempts to label me ‘hard to help’ and ‘difficult’.

I am relatively fortunate in that I am now receiving another round of NHS psychotherapy. I’m not convinced it is entirely addressing the PTSD symptoms I struggle with every day, and there aren’t what you would call any practical measures in place. I sit in a room once a week and talk about the difficulties I am going through.

Would I be better off away from this system altogether? Having just watched a programme on psychosis, I do wonder. Mental health services have certainly done immense harm in my family, and it would seem many others experience harm as well. The best input in the documentary came from patients turned academics, who were obviously best-placed to research and lecture on a condition they have experienced themselves.

I know people receive good treatment, but I haven’t, not consistently. And neither have so many other people. Lives are left blighted, and vulnerable people are shattered and left to pick up the pieces.


They stole my mum

Trigger warning: the following contains memories of child abuse and neglect.

I am an eight-year-old girl.

I feel uncertain most days. I am bullied at school. I have few friends. When I get home, my mum doesn’t ask me about my day.

She doesn’t ask me because she has been taken from me by two thugs called Orap and Stelazine*.

They covered her with a blanket and stole her away. It happens every time she gets ill. My dad rings my gran and they go into a room and whisper. The doctor is called. My mum goes to hospital and when she comes back, she is there but she is gone.

She is dead-eyed and mute. Her face is frozen in a mask. She is expressionless. Nothing I do or say meets with any reaction.

If she doesn’t take her medication, she becomes frightened. She is convinced the IRA are hiding out in the wardrobe, that there’s a gunman in the loft. It is the 1970s and there is a lot of news about Northern Ireland. The world is a scary place, and my mum brings it into our home with her whispers.

One time, I go into the kitchen to find her hunched over a cassette recorder. I ask her what she’s doing. She tells me she’s recording the voices she’s hearing, because nobody believes her.

My 44-year-old self knows how terrifying that must have been for her – to hear a whole crowd of people in your head, some of them terrorists… to experience what they say to you as real, to be frightened and alone with these voices because nobody listens to you when you warn them.

My eight-year-old self, watching my mother, feels frightened and alone.
I stop telling her about things. There’s no point. She isn’t interested.

She brings me food, she washes my clothes. Friends never come to tea. It just wouldn’t work. We watch television in the evenings with my sister and father. But there’s little conversation, and there’s no joy.
There’s no joy in our house.

And once a week, a music teacher comes to teach me lessons in our front room, and he puts his hand in my knickers.

He can tell from the way my mum is that she isn’t at home.

Halfway through the lesson she brings him a cup of tea. She always knocks. He’s usually finished by then.

*Orap and Stelazine are psychiatric medications given to treat schizophrenia. My mother spent most of my childhood on one or the other. If you are on either of these, please understand I am writing through the eyes of my eight-year-old self. This is how I saw these drugs as a child. I do not advocate coming off medication, and I do not reject use of modern antipsychotics to treat psychosis.