Judith’s story

“I got my daughter back. She’d been a complete stranger for years and now she has her personality again.”

A couple of months after she’d been in the Psychosis Unit we were standing on a railway station platform, and in a quiet moment she began to sing to herself. It was lovely because that was something I hadn’t heard her do since she’d been ill.

Since then she’s just been getting better and better, and now you really wouldn’t know she’s ill at all. She’s not in denial anymore either. She’s really come to terms with the fact that she’s schizophrenic and is compliant with taking the medication. Really, that’s all thanks to the Psychosis Unit. I’m sure they saved her life, and I’ve become really passionate about the place.

“Things are so different there.”

We’ve had quite a lot of experience with mental health services, but things are so different at the Bethlem. To start with, it’s such a calm environment. If something happens on the ward, the staff calm things down quickly. They’re so caring and kind, and they have time for people.

The grounds are wonderful. It’s a huge expanse like a wildlife reserve. It’s like a village, they have proper occupational therapy so there’s always something to do, and visiting families are always welcome. You’re never treated as if you’re interfering, and I’m also part of a carers’ group, which is immensely useful.

“At university she was acting in a manic way.”

Before moving to London, they actually diagnosed my daughter as having a personality disorder. She was in her first year of university and acting in a really manic way. She was blowing money, doing things like buying mobile phones and throwing them straight in the bin. She lost lots of weight, regressed to the mental age of three years old, and wouldn’t get out of bed.

There were a couple of really big things going on for her at the time. She hadn’t dealt with her grandfather’s death, and she’d also gone through a difficult process to divorce her father in the courts. We have a history of schizophrenia in the family too, so she was terrified and just wouldn’t talk about what was going on for her.

In the end I convinced her to visit a local acute ward, but the experience there wasn’t good so she left.

“She wanted to believe there was nothing the matter with her.”

They were really good at the university when she went back, but she wasn’t well. On one occasion the police found her sitting on a motorway roundabout on the outskirts of Cardiff with not many clothes on. She also jumped on a train to London and ended up in Paddington in just a t-shirt and no underwear.

At that point, she moved up to her sister’s in London and I decided to sell my flat in Oxford to rent a place near her. She was staying with me and going to a hospital in East London. There she went through section after section before getting onto a better ward. Then she moved up to a place in North London, but that was also a difficult experience.

Finally, a really good psychiatrist we were seeing admitted her to the Psychosis Unit.

“The staff really listen on the Psychosis Unit and she felt safe. That was a big thing, feeling safe.”

Understandably, it was really difficult to get her to go back for help. But things were different when she started; she said it was the first time she’d really felt listened to, and she started to trust the professionals again.

One of the really interesting things is that they never once had to section her while she was there. I’m sure that was related to the atmosphere and the way she was treated; being respected rather than dealt with like a naughty child. She made one attempt to leave, but just stood outside the building while the staff watched her to make sure she was alright. She’s manipulated her way out of other places, but this time it was different.

“Before, I really had no idea what she was experiencing.”

The unit really wants to involve families and I go to a carer group every month. Psychiatry professionals speak at these groups voluntarily, which means I’m completely up-to-date on the relevant therapies and medicines; and I find out lots from the other carers too.

Before, I really had no idea how she was suffering… what she was experiencing in her head. Unfortunately, most people just hear about schizophrenia when it crops up in the news. But, we’ve been through family therapy to help with things like her paranoia, and the carers have been involved with information booklets that give advice on how to notice the signs of psychosis.

“She’s happy and content now, which is the main thing.”

It’s quite odd really, my daughter had passed her art A-Level… but, although she’s retained her ability to play the piano, she’s lost her ability to draw. Academically, I’m not sure what will happen, but she’s happy and content now, which is the main thing. Other carers say to me that they are also so relieved to have someone who’s happy and not living in hell anymore.

In other areas of life, she’s engaged to be married, her social skills are back, and she’s talked about working with mental health patients at some stage, which I think she’d be good at. She’s also become more assertive and can stand her ground, so it feels like anything’s possible really.

I have to say that I’ve found some mental health services to be very short-sighted. But, when you see how good someone can be with the right kind of help, there’s just no argument. We have a real jewel in the crown with the Psychosis Unit.

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