Posted Tuesday 18 December 2012
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It’s your worst nightmare – you are depressed, suicidal and you are in the middle of the biggest mental breakdown of your life. You are in a psychiatric hospital waiting to be discharged into the community and you are homeless.
You have to wait until your discharge day when a charity worker drives you to the housing department with your carrier bags and your belongings. The fear and the feeling of shame and humiliation is overwhelming.
I received excellent care in hospital, they tried to build up my confidence and put me back on track, but every nurse and every doctor knew that on discharge I would have to present myself with my bags at an accommodation office that would have no understanding of mental health issues and no idea about my vulnerable state. They knew it and they could not do anything about it, they could not keep me safe in hospital forever. It was a catch 22 situation.
I had several unsafe discharges from hospital, to filthy properties that were completely inappropriate for my recovery and at times even described by council housing officers as uninhabitable. I felt I was treated worse than a dog, although I did get a meek ‘sorry’ about the place that was uninhabitable until it had had a deep clean that would take at least a week. When I told the homelessness officers I had mental health problems, the response was that they didn’t care. They admitted their emergency accommodation was ‘grotty’ and forced me to stay in places that felt below the standards for the RSPCA. This is not an exaggeration.
My parents, who are both disabled, could not care for me at their home. I also could not live in their town as my childhood abuser lives there and I was afraid of seeing him after having disclosed what he did to me when I was 11 years old to the police last year. So I had no choice but to be ‘in the system’.
To cut a long story short, the discrimination and lack of awareness of my condition by the people supposedly helping me with emergency accommodation drove me to a very bad place.
How did I get here? I used to live in a beautiful home in Australia and manage a business; my life was now very different and I thought about my options - was I to live like a dog in filth or was I to just go to sleep and not wake up? You can guess which option felt better. After a horrific time in and out of hospital and intensive care, I was helped by a kind and amazing police officer who arrested and sectioned me under the Mental Health Act. I had reached a point where I felt harassed and abused by the accommodation team at the council and I could no longer bear to live my life, I had no dignity or pride left. In the end I was forced to save my liver and my life but I was still homeless.
Enter my mental health advocate and Shelter and 48 hours later I am living in Pontins and had 6 weeks to wait for my very own newly renovated council property in the heart of beautiful countryside. What changed? If I had died, the accommodation team at the council would have had to explain to my friends and family why. Why was she treated like an animal? They would ask. Why was she forced to sleep in unsafe places? Why didn’t you understand she was suicidal and unstable, didn’t you read her notes? The answer would have probably been stunned silence.
There is a good ending to this tale and it’s not my new flat or my improving mental and physical health. The head of services for the council stepped in during my ordeal and asked what was going on, he and my father spoke and he realised that vulnerable people discharged from hospital were slipping through the cracks in a seriously dangerous way. He looked at the system in place and he took on the challenge with a full investigation.
We met recently and heard that changes are to be implemented across the county as a result of the trauma I suffered. The promises made brought me to tears, I could never have imagined such amazing results. Every vulnerable patient discharged as homeless from hospital will get a better chance to make a fresh start and be treated with dignity and respect.
Every employee will receive training in mental health awareness and the quality of homeless accommodation across the county will be upped. Huge promises from the head of services but driven by a steering committee of all parties involved to make sure patients get the best care and support in the community. My parents and I have been invited to be a part of the committee along with doctors, nurses, social workers and accommodation officers. Everybody working together to create the best practice and procedures to help others found in my situation.
It was a monumental day for me, proving that one person can make a difference in the world. A huge thank you goes to my mum and dad, Shelter and my advocate for fighting not just for me, but for every person who finds themselves at rock bottom. Now I hope nobody in this county will leave hospital and lose their dignity or their life, nobody will leave hospital to walk the streets rather than stay in unsafe, dirty accommodation.
You can change the system, the discrimination and the complacency. A safe bed in a safe place is a basic right for any vulnerable person in this country. We are not all a waste of space, we are your friends, members of your family, people you know and respect who have fallen on hard times because of illness. We are men and women trying to feel better about ourselves again, trying to get on with life and trying to live with an illness.
I thank God for the changes promised by the head of housing and social services for Denbighshire, he is a champion for other councils, an example of a decision maker who understands the challenges faced by people like myself and a person determined to beat discrimination and put vulnerable people at the heart of his services and policies.
I feel sad today for the men and women I have seen suffer this year like me, walking the streets, returning to abusive relationships, or being housed in dangerous place. I can’t help them, all I can do is hope and pray they are safe. However, I feel an amazing sense of relief for the patients in the future who will have a safe discharge, a safe place to lay their head at night and restoration of their dignity by being treated with respect.
The council and the NHS have a long journey ahead of them working to make these promises become a reality but I will help in any way I can. Nobody in a civilised society should be made to suffer the trauma I went through this year, we owe it to each other to do things better and get it right.
Jules' story was featured in the Sunday Express earlier this month.
Jules' story shows that you can make a real difference. To join her, become a Mind member today.
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