Mental health campaigner Claire Greaves dies in Cygnet unit

Picture of a young white woman with dark hair tied up with a large clip at the back of her head, wearing a white T-shirt with the logo "Beat eating disorders", a rainbow-striped pair of long socks and a pair of black leggings with a white flower pattern on them.I learned this morning that Claire Greaves, a mental health blogger and campaigner who has worked with Mind, Fixers and eating disorder charity Beat until she was moved to a secure unit in 2016, and who tweeted under the handle @mentalbattle, has died in an eating disorders unit run by the private company Cygnet, owned by Pennsylvania-based Universal Health Services, in Coventry. Although she suffered from anorexia which nearly killed her in early 2017, sources on Twitter say she took her own life. She had been moved to that unit in May 2017 after five months in a mainstream hospital receiving tube-feeding after the crisis brought on by the anorexia in the Partnerships in ‘Care’/Priory-run secure unit, Ty Catrin, in south Wales, the conditions of which were the subject of this interview and which she wrote about on her blog here.

I previously wrote about Greaves’s experience at Ty Catrin in my BADD post last May here. It ticked all the boxes of bad mental healthcare: excessive security (including unnecessary denial of internet access), denial of family visits and using them as a weapon, poor safety, lack of activities, lack of privacy and deliberate and cruel denial of dignity:

I never went outside, the whole 8 months I was there the only times I went out of the tiny ward were to go to hospital. I wasn’t allowed anything in my room, not even cards people sent me, I wasn’t allowed a pen or cutlery or access to the Internet or my phone or iPad or computer. At one point I wasn’t even allowed my clothes and I wore anti rip smocks for months. One time early on in my admission when I was still having periods I wasn’t allowed a sanitary towel and I literally had blood running down the insides of my legs.

We were often locked out of our bedrooms leaving us with a little room with a tv to spend our entire day in with very few activities going on. We were never allowed in the toilet alone and were given toilet tissue one square at a time.

I had to move rooms during my admission after another patient tried to strangle me and I have to admit I didn’t resist. I hoped she would kill me.

To reiterate what I said in my BADD post:

It is well-known that a major cause of eating disorders in girls is discomfort with the changing body, which includes starting periods, and part of recovering from malnutrition is starting periods again; the fear of further indignity will make this process an awful lot harder, especially if someone is out of hospital and not compelled to eat, or tube-fed. The insistence on ‘supervising’ people in the toilet also strikes me as an abuse stemming from disregard for dignity: some people find it difficult to ‘go’ when being watched, and it cannot be necessary for everyone, particularly when they are intensively supervised in everything else they do.

If her death was indeed suicide, we need to ask not “why was she able to take her own life?” but “what is it about this unit and her treatment that was so wretched that she felt the need to take that action?”. We cannot simply chalk her death up to her illness; she was under section in a locked mental health ward and her life was what the staff made it. A friend who was in contact with her on Facebook tweeted that her last post said she was going to die there and remarked “after seeing her ‘care’ over the last few days I am sadly not surprised” (about her death). Issues with Cygnet’s units were known of before Claire was sent to one (which was newly opened at that time); friends tried to warn her but she regarded this as potentially “her way back into the world” and in any case had no choice in the matter.

Both Cygnet and Priory need to be held accountable for what happened to Claire. Mental health care which is undignified, unsafe and unnecessarily restrictive is not therapeutic and adds trauma to people’s existing difficulties. We must bring back localised, publicly-funded inpatient mental health care and stop sending people hundreds of miles from home (which the Care Quality Commission today warned harms people’s recovery) to private units which are run for profit.

(Also: this week a study on seclusion of women with learning disabilities in mental health units was published by Lancaster University and found that the practice is “counter-therapeutic” and that the victims find it “aversive, bewildering and distressing”. While not directly relevant as she did not have a learning disability, Claire suffered this as well while in hospital. It should go without saying that men with learning disabilities probably do not benefit from this treatment either, and that this should be the subject of further research.)

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