A law unto themselves

A young girl sits on a black, leather (or faux leather) sofa behind a partially open door. She has her knees raised to her face and her arm covering the rest of her face. She is wearing a white and pink jumper and light blue jeans or tracksuit bottoms.

The past few weeks I’ve been in contact with the mother of an autistic teenage girl who was admitted (initially informally) to an adolescent mental health unit last July. She had been bullied at school, was not diagnosed until her problems had been building up for some time, the school had not dealt with the situation properly and she was suicidal or had attempted suicide. The unit has proven no more competent, particularly in dealing with autism; they have not allowed her out more than a few occasions including on her 16th birthday last November, and when she had a meltdown after that incident, she was sectioned. Near the end of last year her mother was told that she was expected to be transferred to a unit that supposedly specialises in autism which is 70 miles from home (a similar distance to the other unit), but when it turned out earlier this month there would not be a place, the unit put measures into place to deal with her condition better and these included taking her for walks. However, last week she was assessed for a low-secure unit in south-east London run by the infamous Priory company and today she was transferred.

Being aware of other examples of terrible treatment received by patients in various Priory units around the country (Claire Dyer, Claire Greaves, Stephen Andrade, two of the Hull cases), including those formerly run by Partnerships in Care, I was apprehensive about her being transferred into one of these places; however, I said nothing because none of them involved this particular unit (I knew of a family whose daughter was in this one, a few years ago, but this girl’s mother did not contact them because she did not want to bias her opinion of the unit). The girl was looking forward to moving because the representative who met her was nice and the place has a gym. However, on arrival she discovered that the unit was stricter than was led to believe, that the “en-suite” toilets in the rooms have no doors and that she would not be allowed her bra as it was underwired. Her mother also discovered that she would not be allowed to meet her daughter at the unit as she believed she could.

To me it reveals a lot about their attitude that they did not warn her or her mother about the rules about bras before she moved; new ones could have been bought at the weekend. It’s also disturbing how quickly the transfer was accomplished and that the old unit went for the secure unit option as soon as they learned that no non-secure, specialist autism unit was available. It underlines how little power people have when they find themselves in the ‘care’ of the psychiatric industry; they are a law unto themselves, can section someone on a pretext and move them across the country and subject them to overly restrictive conditions for no good reason. When someone has a problem with self-harm which stems from bullying and other stress over long periods, the last thing they need is the sudden shock of being moved into a prison-like unit which allows them no privacy or dignity with no idea of when they will be allowed home, yet this is what our mental ‘health’ industry subjects vulnerable and distressed young people to on a regular basis. As the terrible example of Claire Greaves shows, it is not therapeutic but harmful. Currently people have no real rights when dealing with these over-mighty and often arrogant, uncaring professionals. This has to change.

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