Still waiting to be heard


I was first admitted to an adult mental health ward for assessment when I was 14 years old. I had a history of running away and self-harm over the previous 2-3 years and my parents felt they could no longer manage.

I arrived on the ward fairly late in the evening and was admitted and put in the only single bed room on the unit (I believe this was due to my age and perceived vulnerability on an adult ward).  I was taken to this room by a male nurse who told me to undress and put my night clothes on. I waited for him to leave but then he told me he had to stay with me to make sure I didn't run away… [This nurse then started on a path of sexual harassment and assault until a young mother and baby were admitted to the unit and I had to be moved to the female dormitory so they could have the only single room].

I had been in the unit over a week when I next spoke to the psychiatrist who I had seen on the day I was admitted to the unit.  I had stopped talking to anyone, my parents hadn't visited (they told me later it was because they were told to give me time to settle in before the visited), and I hadn't eaten anything and felt very weak, I just kept swallowing lots of tablets, when I was told to.  When I went into see the psychiatrist in his office he asked me how I was feeling. I was silent at first, but when he persisted in questioning me, I told him I had to leave, to go home as I wasn't safe here and someone was hurting me. I didn't really know what words to use to explain, and I got very distressed trying to tell him I had to leave now or it would be too late…  He responded by telling me I was a "very sick girl", and I would have to stay in hospital for a long while, probably at least two years, and possibly I would have to live in hospital for always (This was in the early 1970's before care in the community was introduced and the long-stay hospitals closed down).

I learned later that this psychiatrist wrote in my notes that I had paranoid schizophrenia, a label that continued to be written in my notes, although not spoken about to me, for the next few years, during which time I was in and out of hospital.  After a few years the psychiatrist who was responsible for me during a further inpatient admission decided to change my label to borderline personality disorder, and this diagnosis is still on my medical notes, and flashes up on the computer screen when I go to see my GP about anything (just in case they forget and actually speak to me as if I was an ordinary human being!), although it is now about fifteen years since I stopped taking anti-psychotic drugs or other medication or since I last saw a psychiatrist. 

I am now in my mid-fifties and I still haven't been afforded the opportunity by the mental health services to talk about what as an adolescent was troubling me so much in the first place that I ended up being admitted to psychiatric hospital at the age of fourteen.

[The above narrative has been edited to remove some passages].