The importance of information
Posted Wednesday 16 January 2013
In 1993 I was serving a custodial sentence. I had been in prison since 1992 and all the time I had been in custody my mental health had become progressively worse. I was in a really bad way, not functioning in any meaningful way and extremely vulnerable. That’s when it happened. The incident that was going to change my life and the way I viewed myself and others. I suffered an extremely violent and unprovoked attack by my cell mate; the nightmare state my mind was in was exacerbated tenfold by this violent assault.
Which leads me to the present day. Recently I sat on a focus group for the leading mental health charity; Mind. Its focus was on updating the organisations legal information with regard to mental health. At the time of the assault I had no knowledge of charities such as Mind, I also had no knowledge of my legal rights for the treatment of a prisoner who had suffered a horrific assault and was about to have a complete mental breakdown. I am certain that had I done, and that had I been able to access easy to digest legal information, my recovery would have started over twenty years ago rather than in the last six.
After the attack I was taken to the prison hospital. Little did I know, but I was to spend the next three months there in my own private hell. I am fully aware people will be reading this and making judgements, and that’s fine, after all I was a convicted robber. But any one of us can suffer poor mental health, even a convicted criminal. That is why it is imperative that people have access to up to date, easy to understand and factual legal information with regards to sectioning and what the authorities can or can’t do, in order that the individual is fully aware of their position and rights from a legal point of view.
My own personal experience saw me given a whole variety of mood stabilizers, anti-depressants and anti-psychotics, saw me placed in a strip cell for days on end as a way of monitoring me and being placed on suicide watch which was made a mockery of by prison staff. I am utterly convinced I should have been sectioned under section 36 of the Mental Health Act or at least a section 35. The prison medical staff just simply did not understand the complexity of my issues, albeit this was twenty-eight years ago to put it in context. Which returns to my point of the readily available access to information concerning your legal rights and mental health; had I known that I could feasibly be placed in hospital to receive appropriate care, perhaps and only perhaps I may have began my journey back to society sooner.
I had a happy ending but only because of the support and care I received upon my release from counsellors and the NHS Mental Health Team coupled with the support of my family and friends. Knowing what I know now, I could have accessed support earlier. That's why it is essential that those suffering from mental health difficulties, regardless of their personal circumstances and whoever they are, have access to reliable, easy to access and up to date legal information. This would enable individuals to make informed decisions about their care, treatment and also help to create a situation whereby the stigma attached to mental health was reduced.
You can also follow Thomas on Twitter @saddler71
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