I was 21 years old and suffering from severe anorexia nervosa. I had recently been admitted to hospital – my third eating disorder admission in 2 years. I was becoming a revolving door patient. But this time, the eating disorder hospital I was sent to refused to admit me – my health was too compromised, and my weight was too low. So I was sent to the general hospital until I reached the required weight to go to the eating disorder unit.
I was in the general hospital for nearly four weeks before being moved to the eating disorder unit. They were the worst few months of my life. I was sectioned, tube fed, nil by mouth, and not allowed to shower. I could have coped with all that. But what I couldn’t cope with, in my already very vulnerable mental state, was the complete lack of caring, understanding and empathy from the staff, and the barbaric philosophy of how anorexia patients should be treated.
I had been in the general hospital for nearly two weeks and I had not been allowed to wash since my arrival. Surely it is basic human rights to be allowed to wash? They hadn’t even bought me a bucket of water and soap. I kept asking the staff – please can I have a shower and, please can I be taken in the wheelchair to use an actual toilet rather than a commode. I may have had a mental illness, but I was still a person. My hospital notes read “Rebecca keeps asking to have a shower and to use a toilet. We have told her that these are rewards and privileges that come with good behaviour and compliance.” In my opinion, this is abuse. I can’t believe that this sort of behaviour and so called ‘treatment’ is happening in the 21stcentury. You do not have to earn the right to have a shower. The staff were in a position of power and they were certainly abusing it. (And I would like to add here that I was actually compliant and the majority of my notes explain that I am resting in bed all day, every day).
|In the hospital where I was suicidal
The eating disorder unit provided guidelines to the staff at the general hospital on how to deal with anorexic patients. One sentence read “They will try to manipulate staff so you must be very firm with them at all times.” I was being treated like a naughty, deviant school child, not someone suffering from a severe mental illness. And yes, anorexia can cause sufferers to tell lies, but this is part of the illness. It is not us, the person, simply being manipulative to get our own way – it is an indication of how much we are struggling with our eating disorder. And from my own perspective, anorexia had beaten me black and blue. I was destroyed. At a time when I was at complete rock bottom, both physically and mentally, what I needed most, more than anything, was for people to care. But instead, on top of the abuse from anorexia, I was further destroyed by the heartless staff and their punitive regime.
The staff should have been trying to help me, not punishing me, but instead they were driving me to complete hopelessness. Anorexia had taken me to the edge, and the staff and their regime pushed me over. The answer was now clear. I couldn’t live with anorexia and there was no way I was going to be able to fight it, not with the staff and their brutal attitudes and regime. I decided to kill myself. I didn’t want to live anymore, there was no light at the end of my tunnel. My world was consumed in darkness and I didn’t want to be in it anymore.
I was supervised by staff 24/7 so I had to plan my suicide. When I was moved back to the eating disorder unit, I was allowed to drink two cups of water a day to take my medication orally. I was prescribed antidepressants. They were going to be my life line. Well, more of a death line. I would pretend to take the antidepressants but I spat them out and stored them in a box of tissues. I was going to store them until I had enough for an overdose. When I had enough for the overdose to actually work, I was going to take them. I was going to escape. I was going to be free from this hell.
However, before I had stored enough to take an overdose, my parents won a battle to get me transferred to a more local eating disorder hospital. I arrived at this hospital on the brink of suicide, but they couldn’t have been more different to my previous experience. The staff listened and cared. They supported me and, along with my parents, helped pull me out of my darkest place. They showed me that I had a life worth fighting for and helped me in my battle against anorexia. The stark contrast in treatment approaches was clear for anyone to see. One drove me to suicide, the other gave me my life back.
Approximately one in four people experience mental health problems each year. Suicide is the largest cause of death in men aged 20-49 in the UK. Mental health problems are real. I was driven to suicide by my mental illness and the complete lack of care and support from so called health professionals. When someone is suffering from mental health issues, it can be very hard to open up and seek support. If we are faced with a complete lack of empathy and understanding when we do, and treated as if we are deviant children, then what hope do we have. There is no darker or more lonely place than where you find yourself when you decide you want to end your life. I was lucky, I received the care and support I needed before it got too late. People need to know that they can talk to others and share their feelings, and that they will be supported and cared for when they do. Suicide can feel like the only option but with talking, care and support, we can find our path to life. So please, make sure you check in with people. Ask if they are okay…and then ask again. And importantly, be caring and be kind. We have no idea what is going on in other people’s lives, what struggles or battles they may be facing. But being kind and caring, and reaching out, could just save someone’s life.