Surviving In a Mental Health Ward Following a Suicide Attempt



The cold hard reality in NSW Australia is if you try to take your own life and survive you are placed under the Mental Health Act and Scheduled which means you are cannot go into the Private System put have to enter the Public Health System. I had many suicide attempts before and had gone through this process but had regretted my attempts so the schedule was lifted so I could go to the Private System after three days once well enough but not this time. I didn’t regret my attempt and said so. I fought the intubation and pulled out all the blood lines and had to be tied down. I screamed at them to let me die and had to be put under sedation for days until the drugs I had taken had worn out of my system and I was well enough to be taken out of intubation. I was so angry at being alive and let them know it. The Schedule was not lifted this time and I was committed to the Public Mental Health Acute Ward.

I wasn’t prepared for this. Nothing prepared me for the psychotic patients and those so ill they were totally uninhibited and screamed and screamed day and night. I was suffering from Complex PTSD and this was the worst situation for me. It was full of triggers and I just suffered flashback after flashback. I pleaded with them to take me to the Clinic I normally went to where I could have peace and quiet but they deemed me too unwell and dangerous to myself. You are still too suicidal they explained and we have to keep you here for safety reasons. One of the patients then fixated on me and kept touching me, rubbing my arms and legs. I kept reporting it and no matter how many times they told him to stop he didn’t. My husband made a formal complaint and eventually the man was moved but not after it had caused me enormous grief.

I couldn’t sleep despite being given medication to help me do so. It just didn’t make any difference I was in a state of such hypervigilance. Anytime I closed my eyes I had nightmares of old flashbacks and terrors. They refused to turn out the lights in my room for supposedly safety reasons so I was in perpetual light day and night and it was agony. It got too much so I resorted to self-harming with taking staples out of magazines and cutting myself requiring numerous stitches. This, of course, was only self-defeating serving to only prove that I was unsafe but it was a desperate plea to ask to be let out of this hell I was living in. I could not communicate this to the psychiatrist I was under. She did not understand my Complex PTSD. She merely looked at my current state and recent suicide attempt and self-harm attributing it to depression. No matter how much I tried to tell her that I was not depressed but was suffering from Complex PTSD and Dissociative Identity Disorder and my suicidality was being driven by my mother alter I couldn’t convince her. I pleaded with her to contact my psychotherapist and normal psychiatrist and have my condition explained to her. My husband set up a meeting with her and insisted she consult with them and refused to let me be treated with ECT and threatened to take out a Court Order to stop them treating me with ECT. I was so grateful for his support.

Thankfully she agreed to talk to them and a consultation was organised. She listened to my treating team and agreed to no ECT and decided to transfer me to a lesser acute ward where there were less psychotic patients that would be less traumatising to me, therefore, less triggering to my flashbacks. Things improved from there. She also agreed today leave to allow me to attend appointments with my psychotherapist so I could continue with my EMDR and psychotherapy treatment. I remained in this public ward for a further two months before the schedule was lifted.

I met some amazing people in that ward. People who had nothing and nobody in this lives. It was tragic. Life for them was living in this ward unless a place could be found in a group home and these places were scarce as hens’ teeth. People with mental impairment were in mental wards as there was nowhere else for them to go. The ward was full of patients suffering from alcohol and drug problems, again totally inappropriate. The public health system is broken. It’s appalling.

I could not be transferred to the Macarthur Northside Private Clinic that I normally went to as they had changed their rules. Ramsay Health Group has introduced a rule which says that it is compulsory that you attend CBT groups in the morning and the afternoon otherwise you cannot be admitted to their Clinic. Groups cause me panic attacks and CBT is not useful for Complex PTSD anyway. So a place that for years had proved beneficial for me and a place of respite for my family was no longer available despite having Private Health Fund. It’s a disgrace and a burden on a pressured public health system.

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin

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