mental health and travel
A quick word about what being "sectioned" is and the first time i escaped from parklands mental hospital
I was first hospitalised at Parklands Mental Hospital in December 2001. My diagnosis of "cannabis induced psychosis with delusions of a grandiose nature" made for many interesting experiences, especially at the very beginning of my illness. Lots of real ups and downs. I've written at length about in my book but for today's post it's a brief view of being sectioned, how I felt about it and the first time I escaped, or "absconded" to use the official term that my supportive team would end up using a few times. Click on read more to read more.
In January 2002 we were all settling down after the excitement of it being the new millennium. Reality TV was becoming popular. Politics was becoming intense after the terrorism in America that made waves throughout the planet. Britney Spears was hot and sweet. Tom Cruise was not crazy.
Meanwhile I had been sectioned on a mental health ward. “Sectioned” means detained and refers to various sections of the Mental Health Act 1983. This act covers the assessment, rights and treatment of people with a serious mental health problem. People under section are a danger to either themselves or others and are in need of urgent treatment for a mental health problem.
There are both benefits and drawbacks to being sectioned. It saved my life, I was doing dangerous things when I was seriously psychotic and delusional. I tried to repair a live electrical socket without turning off the electricity, thinking God would keep me safe, and got a painful shock. One day in December 2001 my Dad asked me
“So what did you do today Peter?”
“Not a lot. I went to The Ritz Hotel in London (a long journey) to meet my imaginary friend but she didn’t show up.”
The next day I decided I would meet with her at the Eiffel Tower. I was on the phone buying train tickets to Paris when my parents realised the magnitude of my illness and decided they needed to get me assessed by a psychiatrist at the local mental hospital, Parklands Hospital.
We went to the hospital and the doctor agreed that I needed urgent care, needed 24 hour observations and needed to be sectioned on the locked ward. I also began taking medication, my first was Haloperidol. Being sectioned meant that I would be safe and could begin treatment, these are the benefits. The drawbacks include being forced into hospital, and I found this very tough.
(Writing about my first sectioning in its entirety would take many pages, this is just a quick post)
I decided that I had to escape. After two miserable weeks on the ward I actually managed it. I phoned my friend’s house whose mum told me that a few of my friends had gone to the bowling alley. I asked a nurse to let me out into the ward garden for a ciggie, hoping that I could slip away from her watch somehow but I was surprised to see that she wasn’t watching me at all. So I jumped over the boundary bush and fence (which is much taller these days) and ran for about a mile to the bowling alley. Six or Seven of my friends were there, just relaxing with a beer and I sat down with them.
Paul and Shane said –
“Pete, you should go back to the hospital.”
Scott and Martin said –
“No, get Pete a pint! What are you drinking Pete?”
It was a serious situation, but also a bit funny. Most people do not succeed in mental health ward escapology.
Paul then drove me to my mum’s house. The police had been called and were at my mum’s already, everybody was relieved to see me turn up unhurt. I uneventfully returned to the ward shortly afterwards, to begin plotting my next escape. My mum recalls that when I got to her house I stopped to make a sandwich and I used the breadknife which worried the police officers, a lot. Some people might be offended of this labelling of the mentally ill as dangerous but to be fair we can sometimes be unpredictable.
I was desperate to leave the ward any way I could on my first stay there. I found it very hard. It was a combination of many factors:
Abrupt and forced cannabis use cessation with no help to cope with this or as to how I was feeling about withdrawal from it.
New strong medication with no one preparing me for strong side effects - it is well known that lots of anti - psychotic pills cause severe restlessness as a side effect. Another side effect I had was stiff facial muscles and a stiff tongue that I could hardly move. I was practically mute! Have a go yourself, see what sounds you can make without moving your tongue - all I could really say was a hissing sound and "ififififif"
Confinement in a claustrophobic environment.
Having my grandiose dreams of being very special immediately crushed.
Thinking that I was going to spend the rest of my life locked up on the ward.
I didn't know what was happening at all. I didn't know why I was feeling so bad. It all came together and made me suicidal after a few weeks, and in January 2002 I escaped for the second time and jumped from a bridge, breaking my back. I spent a very difficult four months in the general hospital but made a complete recovery, physically. I can't help but feel that if someone had made sure I understood some of the reasons why I felt so bad I might not have become suicidal. Nobody discussed that my meds might give strong and unusual side effects, and my cannabis withdrawal was never even recognised as something that might be difficult. I think that my local hospital was underfunded and with minimal resources, so it is possible that I was given the best care that was available. I'm not pointing the finger at my supportive team, but at the people who cut money out of the mental health budget. Especially when those people continue to give tax breaks to big businesses.
If you have had any experiences with absconding from a mental health ward, please share in the comments if you are like me and quite enjoy talking about that kind of thing. Do you have any comments about how we might get more funding for mental health services?