"I would advise any mental health patient to get an advocate"

About: Advocacy Support Cymru

(as the patient),

My advocate's name was Ellie. She supported me to make a complaint against my mental health team, which was extremely overwhelming but she really helped me to have my voice heard. Not only do I have mental health issues, I also have a brain injury- which really affects my communication, cognitive function and attention span. She was always very patient with me, and I never felt rushed. She never made me feel embarrassed of the way I was, in terms of how I communicate. She was very patient with me when I went off on tangents or lost my attention span.

The complaint was a long and complex process, and it was very triggering as it also involved abuse issues. She was very respectful of this, unlike the doctors I was making a complain about.

The complaint went back and forth until it got to the stage the Ombudsmen got involved, and I requested a meeting with representatives from the MH service so they could hear my complaint, as I wasn't being listened to. I kept getting very unsatisfactory replies to my complaint. During the meeting I had a lot of confidence and felt I got my points across. I did not allow them to dismiss or try and change my mind on the issues I was angry with, and I believed in myself.

I began the process feeling totally worn down and felt I had no voice at all. By the end of the process, I felt much more confident within myself and it had a knock on effect into how I represented myself in my life, I was more assertive with how people treated me and spoke about my MH issues.

She also supported me within meetings with psychiatrists, as I do not like to be alone with any professionals within the MH system. I really appreciated having her there with me, as many times psychiatrists said upsetting and unprofessional comments which I found difficult.

One time she actually stepped in to ask if I was OK, as a psychiatrist was asking extremely upsetting and inappropriate questions to the point I started to cry. She was always much more sensitive to my distress, and helpful, than the mental health doctors I was seeing.

She drummed it into me that- Nobody can speak for your experience or tell you how to feel, and this gave me so much confidence within myself. Not just within the complaints process, but how it made me feel as a person. Having a MH condition really makes you doubt yourself, and the way I'd been treated within the mental health system had destroyed my confidence in my own abilities and opinions.

Before I had an advocate I didn't realise just how much abuse mental health patients put up with, within the system. I realised I'd endured and witnessed many abuses that we just think we 'deserve'. There seems to be this belief that just because mental illness isn't as understood as physical illness, that means we should endure second class treatment. And this is widespread in society.

I am in disbelief at how some MH professionals think they can treat their patients. And the sad thing is, that they can often get away with it because they are treating vulnerable and often confused and ill patients, who cannot speak for themselves. Or people won't believe them. It's very scary.

The great thing about Ellie, is that I never had to explain myself and I never felt she didn’t' believe me. She always believed me straight off when I was telling her about how a doctor had treated me. One incident, a psychiatrist made a joke about the delusions I get, and I was extremely distressed. I was so glad I had Ellie to talk to, because just knowing that I had the right to be upset calmed me down.

Unfortunately, if you have spent enough time witnessing what happens within the MH system, nothing shocks you any more. When I tell people the things I've had said to me by psychiatrists, especially, they can't believe it. But unfortunately, it's all too normal.

Often MH patients are not being heard and having your own mental health used against you to invalidate your opinions. I would advise any MH patient to get an advocate, or if you know someone within the MH system, make sure they get an advocate.

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Response from Advocacy Support Cymru

Thank you for telling your story, it paints a picture of the benefits of Independent Advocacy for people, as well as the challenges you have faced as a Mental Health patient. We are glad to hear that our service helped you and will make sure that Ellie reads your comments. We wish you all the very best for the future.

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