As I commented to a fellow blogger recently, I was left feeling angry and anxious after watching last week’s episode of ‘Bedlam’. Bedlam is a four part Channel 4 series currently broadcasting about the South London and Maudsley trust’s mental health services (including Bethlem hospital). The first episode was about anxiety and OCD, while this second episode focused on the subject of ‘crisis’ and was all about a short-stay assessment unit. The unit staff decide if you go into a longer term inpatient ward or if you can go home after a short stay.
I think some things about the programme were good – that they showed some of how prison-like an inpatient ward can be, and having to deal with other people in difficulty when you are feeling so low yourself. They also, perhaps inadvertently, showed breaches of human rights that actually happen in hospitals: like voluntary patients being told they have to see a doctor before they can leave and being threatened with sectioning.
I found this really upsetting to watch because not only did I have that familiar feeling of claustrophobia and fear of being readmitted ever; it is also the case that I didn’t learn until recently how much ‘voluntary’ patients are lied to and not protected. As a so-called voluntary patient I should not have been told I had to see a doctor before I could leave. I should not have felt the threat of sectioning hanging over my head, stopping me from trying to leave despite what they said. I was not advised by anyone else involved in my care of my rights under the human rights act.
Because the way the system supposedly works is not how it actually works. If you sign in voluntarily you should be free to leave with no threat of sectioning and at any time of your choosing. This is a million miles from the reality. The nurses act like bullies and also all tell you you must see a doctor before you’re allowed to leave, won’t let you off the ward unless it is agreed by a doctor (even though legally they must let you through that locked door) and the doctor makes it clear that if you try to leave before they advise you you can, you will be sectioned.
The programme portrayed some things that I felt were misleading: it is a specialist unit that is not widely available in other parts of the country and the facilities look a lot newer and cleaner than places I’ve been. I also felt that it is told more from the staff’s perspective than the service user. The staff were on many occasions deliberately cruel (I witnessed them swearing at patients) when I’ve been an inpatient and in this they are all on best behaviour, it is not true to life. I also noticed that they dodged using the term BPD and only touched on personality disorders very briefly, which I thought was typical. Like Dominic, I was also originally given the diagnosis of bipolar disorder and this was changed when I did not respond to medication.