No-one Today Should Be Caring Alone By Miriam Gwynne

By Miriam Gwynne


Middle aged man, commuting by train
Thoughts turn to his sister he left crying in pain
He’s off to a meeting, while she struggles at home
Both of them left to face it alone

Teenage mum struggling, pushing a chair
The child is yelling, people just stare
She is begging for help as she picks up the phone
She cares for her child, but does it alone

The couple at the cafe, sharing their tea
One of them lost yet no-one can see
He lives in the past, a mind not his own
Forgetting her name, they both grieve alone

The parents of a child, who may never walk
They sing to a baby who still can not talk
Kissing a hand, though it’s all skin and bone
Everyday precious, weeping alone

Little eight year old, should be out to play
Instead she is feeding her dad everyday
Doing his care as the nurses have shown
With no one to tell her she isn’t alone

The next door neighbour, bringing some meals
Staying and listening to ask how she feels
Filling out forms while letting her moan
Determined his friend should not feel alone

The father sitting at the hospital bed
Digesting the words that the doctor just said
A new diagnosis, his mind has been thrown
Needing support so he isn’t alone

So many people with stories to tell
Caring for others, and doing it well
Yet they all need support, to know they are not on their own
Because no-one today should be caring alone

Family Life: The Biggest Casualty of Modern UK Culture By Kelly Grehan

By Kelly Grehan

 

Barely a day goes by without me hearing some mention of Britishness and British values. There seems to be an acceptance by some that Britain is the envy of the world. I have never been sure what this is based on.

What sums up modern British life? What are the central focuses of our culture? I’d argue money, work and the pursuit of status are what our daily lives and almost all of our time are filled with.  

I visited Holland this summer and could not help but notice how much more relaxed the Dutch way of life seems to be as oppposed to here, where many of us feel our days are about trying to cram in as much as possible. The expectation is to be a conscientious employee, always on time, never be unreliable, strive to climb the career ladder at the same time as being an involved parent, never missing a school play or sports match. keep a perfect house and helping with homework and all manner of other things. But although we might not like to admit it, our value base in this country is about putting money ahead of family life and happiness. 

We are preached to that our status is based upon our (material) assets, people seem to long to tell you how much their car/holiday/phone/home cost, and expect you to be impressed.  

There often appears to be a badge of honour in how many hours you work over what you are contracted; almost as if the company might collapse without us and many of us are forced to waste hours every week sitting in traffic jams or awaiting delayed trains as we commute to jobs far from our homes. Rising costs of living and stagnant wages leave many of us feeling stressed about making ends meet.     

But does it have to be like this? I’d argue not and that the way of life we have here can be changed. Denmark and Norway won the first and second places in this year’s World Happiness Report.  

What’s different about them? Well, both Denmark and Norways’ cultures prioritise experiences over material goods and strive for equality. They have relatively small wealth gaps and friendships are seen as a value. Both nations cherish sharing activities with friends and family.

In the Norwegian language there is even a word for helping each other without being paid;  ‘dugnad’. 

Occasions where everyone contributes their time and skills for the good of the neighbourhood is seen as vital for the good of all. Similarly, Danes might pay extortionate amounts in tax, but this has given them a sense of cohesion; everyone having a stake and everyone getting something back. Unlike here where post compulsory education without being linked to career aspirations is regarded as an extravagance, most Danes take weekly evening classes, all free at the point of receiving them. How many of our lives would be enriched if that were the case here?

One reason people in Denmark have time for enrichment is that they simply do not work the hours we do. The average working week in the UK is now 43.6 hours compared with a European average of 40.3 hours. Danish workers work an average of 26 hours and Norwegians 33.  

One of the sad things about our culture, in my view, is the failure of us as a society to put family life first and the impact it has our children.  

The World Health Organisation (WHO) last year conducted a study of children across 44 countries. The results made for grim reading, It found Britain’s 15-year-olds are suffering due to ‘pressure at school, feeling fat and drinking too much.’ They were less likely to report ‘good life satisfaction’ than their foreign counterparts.  

73% of girls and 52% of boys in England felt pressured by school work, significantly higher than the average of 51% of girls and 39% of boys across all countries. 

While 50% of girls and 25% of boys in England think they are too fat, higher than the average 43% for girls and 22% for boys across all countries.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers have consistently argued that the mental health of children as young as six is being blighted by exam stress. We have increasing numbers of young people self harming and suffering from anxiety and stress. Although there are many reasons for this, I would argue the culture in this country which judges everyone, regardless of age on their possessions and status is at least partly to blame. Children are judged on their test scores, their school’s place in the league tables, their clothes, their family status, where they live and all manner of other things that should not be important. So, it is no wonder, like British adults, so many children cannot escape the feeling they are not good enough.

What about if Britain had a culture where employers encouraged and helped promote family life and other activities? What about if when meeting people for the first time we asked people about their hobbies and interests instead of where they live and what we do for a living? 


What about if spending time doing community based activities was the norm? What about if we judged each other by our actions and nothing else – not appearance or status or possessions?

I think we would all be much happier. Isn’t that what we should strive for as a culture rather than the best GDP or the most millionaires?  

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Mental Health ‘Care’ is Not What you Might Expect By The Masked Avenger Anonymous 

Author Anonymous

* Please note trigger warning ( suicide) *


I’ve been detained under the MHA (Mental Health Act) twice within the last two years. I will describe my own experience of my last admission. 


I have 3 mental health diagnosis, an eating disorder in which I have a lot of fear foods plus an allergy to wheat and gluten, I have PTSD for which I can be triggered and recurrent depressive disorder. The latter means that my mental health fluctuates in waves going from a flat enjoying nothing mode in which I manage to function and maintain normal acts of daily living such as getting up and out of bed, washing and dressing and eating the foods I will eat. 

I have a fear of phones but keep in touch with my 2 friends and 2 of my children by text and I will talk to my GP on the phone.

 
In the low periods despite attempts to change I can’t gather the energy to get out of bed apart from loo trips. I don’t wash or dress, my eating varies and I withdraw from the world and push people away. I spend most of my awake hours crying, and honing down my suicide plan to the final piece as I lose all hope that I’ll ever get better and the emotional pain is so intense I’m unable to cope with it. 

On this occasion my care coordinator had visited me and said that she would be requesting a MHA assessment and left the house. I paced around crying having found my first hospital admission awful and not wanting to go again. I wanted to take my overdose to end my life but thought the MHA crew would appear and save me and I didn’t want to be saved.

Eventually at 8pm, eight hours after my care coordinator had left, I managed to phone the out of hours team to find out what was going on and I was informed that the MHA assessment was booked for 10am the following morning. With this information I believed I had the time needed to end my life and took most of the tablets in my bedside drawer. A mixed overdose of about 8 drugs but including tricyclic drugs I’d previously stored at a time I was prescribed them. 

I lay on the bed fully clothed in clothes I’d been in 24/7 for several days. I didn’t expect to wake up. I remember nothing from that moment to waking on a ward in the medical hospital. 

It transpired that the 2 doctors and AMHP had arrived and not being able to obtain entry asked a neighbour (who has been nasty to me since I moved here so I avoid him) to climb in my bedroom windows and let them in. They couldn’t rouse me so I was taken to hospital where I woke later. It was a couple of months before discovering my neighbour had been in my bedroom and was aware as he gleefully told my daughter about it. 

What happened after…

So the MHA assessment took place in the medical hospital at 2am the morning after I was found and I was detained under section 2. I remained in this hospital for a further 36 hours as there were no beds. My bed was an observation bay right by the nurses station, the lights were on full there all night but I wasn’t allowed to draw the curtains for shade so I could sleep so I didn’t manage to sleep at all in that light. 

I was then transferred to the psychiatric hospital acute ward and shown my room. There I stayed in bed, still fully clothed completely covered in a sheet apart from loo trips for over a week. I cried the whole time and if I slept during the night I don’t remember it. I was aware of every hourly check from staff looking through the bedroom door all day and all night. 

Once or twice people put a plate of food on the bedside table and left it there but the food was all my fear foods as was everything in the canteen so I ate practically nothing during my whole stay. 



After a week and a bit I asked whether it would be possible to be taken home to collect some clothes as I’d been wearing the outfit I’d been detained in day and night since. I asked every day but was told there were no available staff to do so. On day 12 I went to the ward manager’s office and said how long I’d been in my clothes and how I needed things from home. Within an hour a member of staff took me and I collected night clothes, another outfit and toiletries. After this time I started to go into the lounge occasionally but was frightened of 3 ladies on the ward, 2 of which had major anger problems and 1 was extremely unwell and very unpredictable.

One of the ladies with anger issues later told me she didn’t want to be discharged as her partner was violent and she had nowhere else to live so every time discharge was talked about, she’d deliberately kick off meaning her discharge was delayed. She assured me she’d be there months. 

The canteen was terrifying for me. I’m frightened of men and the dining room was shared with the male ward. Many of the men behaved badly making obscene suggestions as well as throwing chairs etc. 

There was no food I could eat anyway so sometimes I’d grab a banana from the fruit bowl and immediately go back to the ladies ward. This satisfied the staff I was eating and the staff in the dining room could tick me off their list. Sometimes I’d take a bite of the banana but usually didn’t and would bury it under paper towels in the bin back on the ward.  
One teenager cut herself so badly during the night she was whisked off with the 2 qualified members of staff to A&E in the adjacent hospital. They never returned so no one could have medication and the following day the consultant was at the main hospital too. The teenager never returned, I’ve no idea if she survived. The things from her room were bagged up and taken away from the ward. 

Apart from a mindfulness session every weekday morning nothing else was on offer. I didn’t go to the sessions due to fear of the men but I have done mindfulness to death in the community and despite hours and hours of practice find it never helps me at all. But for some reason mental health professionals think it cures all psychiatric ills and it’s the only therapy I’ve been offered in the community in my 7 years with them. 



During my weeks on the ward I only ever saw one qualified nurse in the lounge, sitting and talking to patients. She’d bring her laptop in to write up her notes on Rio but would talk to patients alongside this. She was really nice, I’ve heard she’s left now which is sad. The only times I saw qualified staff was at the hatch to the medicine room as they dished out tablets. Apart from those times they stayed in the ward office and we never saw them. I had a named nurse who I never met. 

There were 2 or 3 health care assistants who were visible and about the ward, they were all male but we’re quiet and calm so I was able to cope with them with no problems at all and one in particular was kind. 

I was discharged feeling no better. At home my dining table was covered in piles of thing labelled with who they were to go to, and 3 envelopes containing letter to my children. 

On my discharge notes it said I’d spent the first 10 days asleep in bed!! So all those days I’d cried day and night barely catching snatches of sleep, I was apparently asleep the whole time. 

The thing is no one ever talks to you or asks you anything so they guess and assume and that’s the basis of their paperwork. My diagnosis was even better, it was factitious disorder which totally shocked me once I’d looked it up. Fortunately both the community CMHT (Community Mental Health Team) and my GP said that was total rubbish. CMHT told me that hospital consultant is renowned for his bizarre and incorrect diagnosis. Useful. Not. The only thing that kept me sane there was my weekly phone call from my GP. She’d listen to what was happening, how I was feeling and what was being said and she’d spend 30-45 minutes helping me make sense of it all and help me see things from a different perspective. Ironic really that the only helpful member of staff during my time there was my GP back at my surgery! To me that ward is nothing but a holding cell. 

Therapy would be good as would be some interaction with qualified staff or your named nurses. And it seems when someone is detained and needs a bed, the patient on the ward they deem to be the least risk is immediately discharged, better or not, to make room for the new arrival. Because I was quiet and not disruptive, that was me.

I hope one day that I’ll be offered some therapy from the community team. But I’ve asked for CBT or a psychological assessment several times and the answer has always been no. I want to leave CMHT as I’ve found little helpful and they’re not proactive but my GP encourages me to stay with them because with my recurrent depressive disorder I get low, and when I get low I get very very low and lose all hope. But I have no intention of going back into that hospital again, no help is available there and the diagnosis you come out with is fictitious in itself.

This was written for you by a Masked Avenger. A Masked Avenger could be any one of our regular writers, a group of writers or a guest writer. Written to bring you uninhibited truths that need to be told.

If you would like to submit an article to the Masked Avenger please email us at: the-avenger1@hotmail.com

The Avenger Review: Harry Leslie Smith ‘Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future’

By Kelly Grehan
 

In 2013 Harry Leslie Smith was an unassuming 91 year old Yorkshireman when he wrote an article for the Guardian called ‘This Year I Shall Wear A Poppy For The Last Time.’ This was shared 60,000 times. He was then asked to speak at the Labour Party Conference and wrote two books: ‘Harry’s Last Stand’ and ‘Love Among The Ruins’. He now has a massive twitter following and runs a weekly podcast and speaks at events all over the country.

 

Now age 95 Harry has published his third book, described as a ‘call to arms’ called ‘Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future.’

 

The book starts with Harry reflecting upon his feelings of disappointment and fear of what lay ahead on the night of the Conservative election victory in 2015. It then compares Harry’s miserable experiences growing up in absolute poverty with those in similar positions today.  

 

Throughout, Harry uses facts and statistics to make his point, for example when discussing his brutal experiences of a childhood spent in transit from one set of poor accommodation to another even poorer one he points out that the use of private rental accommodation has risen by 50% since 2002 and that this, along with rent rises has doomed many children to repeating his own fate. He expresses his pain at the fate of old age being to see ‘society gravitate back to the past.’

 

Harry shows great shrewdness in recognising the causes that allowed fascism to spread during his youth and how some many of the same courses have led to a climate where Brexit and Donald Trump have gained power and that these, in turn are a threat to our core belief systems, with ‘compassion and decency’ now at risk.  

 

He (controversially) makes the point that ‘perhaps it is the young today that have wisdom because they are learning to live with the selfishness of the baby boomer generation that helped create neo-liberalism and made it fashionable to disparage the welfare state while enjoying all its benefits.’

 

Speaking of the aims of society, Harry says ‘Our thirst to do good things like find a cure for cancer and our hunger to do harm to others like selling weapons to Saudi Arabia astonish me.’

 

Despite his age, or maybe because of it, Harry has lost none of his enthusiasm in the belief in a better world or the belief that people, especially young people deserve better. He speaks of the injustice that a child’s economic place at birth determines so much of what they are or are not entitled to.  

 

One of the most poignant parts of the book for me are Harry’s recollections of the humiliation which comes with poverty – both for adults and children. The stigma of poverty leads to negative self image and self blame. Reading this I could not help but picture those families reliant on food banks and the message we, as a society are sending those reliant on charity for food, about their worth,  

 

With so few of those from the Second World War now left to share their experiences of life prior to the Welfare State and the NHS, it can sometimes feel like ancient history and that we are safe from the issues that pained that period. But of course, by comparing modern issues- poverty, poor housing, a rise in fascism, no refuge from domestic abuse, unaffordable health care – Harry shows that they battles won in 1945 need fighting once again.  

 

Seeing Harry’s strength in fighting against the ills of the government at his advanced years is truly inspirational. I hope reading this book encourages more people to leave their complacency behind and fight for a better, more just society as Harry and his comrades did in 1945.  

 

The great thing about Harry’s writing is it speaks across generations. I’ll be buying copies for my Grandad and my friend’s 16 year old for Christmas.  

 

Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future by Harry Leslie Smith is available to buy now.

The NHS Staff Are Heroes, So Why Do We Let The Government Treat Them So Badly? By Kelly Grehan

This article was originally written in the Summer by Kelly Grehan
  

Two weeks ago I had a mastectomy. I went into St Thomas Hospital where surgeons removed my (currently) healthy (and frankly beautiful) breasts and reconstructed new ones using tissue from my stomach in what is known as diep flap reconstruction.

 

The reason I chose to do this is I have a defective brca 1 gene. This gene is usually a tumour suppressor, but it’s faulty status in my body gives me an 80% chance of developing breast cancer.

 

Since I told people about my decision to proceed with the operation, thus reducing my cancer chances I’ve had a lot of people tell me I’ve made a brave or heroic decision. Of course, that is not true, I was in the fortunate position to be able to take control of my own health and future. There is a hero in my story of course, in fact there are several: the NHS and their staff.

 

How could I have taken a decision like this without the NHS? From the moment I saw a genetic counsellor at Guy’s Hospital who talked me through the decision to take the diagnostic test to the nurses I saw at the Wound Clinic today I have been treated as an individual with individual needs and have been dealt with by highly trained individuals too numerous to mention, but that include surgeons from two highly trained teams (breast and plastics), anaesthetists, researchers, specialist nurses, physios and other great professionals like porters and health care assistants as well as volunteers supplying services such as the patient cinema at St Thomas’ and helping in the waiting room at clinics.

 

In all of this, despite the nature of the decision I made and the operation meaning I spent a lot of time undressed I never felt I was losing my dignity. I was helped to shower, comforted as I vomited, helped into bed and had my complicated wounds checked every single hour. The empathy of the nursing and other staff left me feeling good about myself.  

 

I also never had to make any decision in which cost had any bearing at all. Money was simply never mentioned at any stage. Compare this to the situation I could have faced were I an American citizen where my decisions would be governed by the level of insurance I had. Where I may be tied to my job because of the insurance package it gave were the procedure to go wrong at any point and revisions needed. Where I might find parts of my treatment were covered and others not and where the threat of reduction in Obama Care might have forced my to make decisions early.

 

Now ironically my hospital room overlooked the Houses of Parliament and I happened to be recovering when the Labour Party amendment to give public sector workers a modest pay increase was voted down by the tories to cheers and cackles. Austerity has left public sector staff getting progressively poorer year on year. At the same time the tories have continued to cut tax for top earners.  

 

The number of billionaires in the country has actually risen, this is in a context where the nursing bursary (a recognition of the work students nurses provide on wards up and down the country and the hours they study making it difficult for them to support themselves) has been scrapped. Rather than scrapping it there is a credible argument student nurses should be paid the minimum (sorry, living) wage for the hours they spend working for the NHS. Indeed I was cared for by several students nurses during my stay in hospital. Looking after sick people is no easy task and they all did brilliantly. It’s an absurd thought that they are reliant on loans and overdrafts to allow them to carry out this work and that after a 12 hours shift in the hospital some will have been off to other jobs just to pay their rent. The nursing courses are tough, and that is right as it is hard work, physically, emotionally and academically. Why on earth would we make it hard to survive financially too?

 

It’s not just student nurses hit by austerity. 17 nurses a day apply for payday loans and there has been a rise in nurses attending food banks. A 40,000 shortage in nurses is, maybe unsurprisingly, predicted,

 

Then there is the treatment of other hospital staff. For example last week porters, security staff and domestics at Barts Health NHS Trust who are actually employed by Serco (but paid for by taxpayers of course) decided on strike action. They are asking for a 30p per hour pay increase. Serco made profits of £82 million last year.  

 

This country is the 6th richest on earth. Why are we happy to treat our health care workers with such disdain? I owe the NHS staff a huge debt of gratitude, as do many others. I am ashamed that this country is not prepared to reward them with recent pay and conditions and I fear in the future many people, in my position will simple to enjoy the excellent treatment I did.  

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The Truth Behind Closed Doors of a Psychiatric Hospital: By The Masked Avenger Anonymous

Author Anonymous

Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the closed doors of a psychiatric hospital, where the purpose is to keep patients at a vulnerable time safe from harm and well cared for with medications, occupational therapy? I am about to give my insight of the hospital from my teenage years and from various stays including the most recent last year.

Getting admitted

Firstly to actually even get admitted you are pretty much in for a fight with the mental health services, I have before begged for admission due to being suicidal in 2015 to the Kent crisis home treatment team only to be told ‘you do not meet the criteria’.

I know on a personal level just how difficult it is to get them to listen. I was age 16 when first admitted a long long time ago now. The hospital was actually run so much better back then even though it was still absolutely poor in comparison to the care you would expect to receive, but back then you were allowed to smoke in the smokers lounge ,a right that prisoners in the UK still have in some prisons. Sometimes it is deemed that you need to be sectioned as I was 3 times last year.

I felt there was no dignity at all.  I was left sleeping in a corridor on a hard rubber sofa with no pillow or blanket and woken up at 7 am to say they had a bed for me in brighton priory… the experience of being in the priory a private hospital was a different world to the NHS experience.

The Staff

I am not saying all the staff are as useless as a chocolate teapot you get one or two that take the time out of their day to sit and talk with you about how you are doing but this is very very rare.

When becoming an inpatient at Littlebrook Hospital now you are made to have your bags searched and items listed this is as much for admin purposes as it is to check whether you have anything in your bags that can harm you i.e razors , tweezers , tablets. However on all admissions last year I was able to ‘smuggle in’ items on the banned list by putting them various zip up compartments which were not checked. Very ‘thorough and safe’ indeed…

 

If they called breakfast and you were not up you simply missed out altogether meaning that you went until lunch time at 12.30 before eating, which when you are on medications is not good at all and can cause adverse effects.

 

If you requested medication to help calm you you could wait hours or sometimes they would forget altogether. I was psychotic last year and convinced I was being spied on I refused food nor was given supplement drinks for a few weeks on my first admission. I would stay in my room at meal times and nobody would try and encourage me that it was safe to eat.

Putting it bluntly the nurses simply do not care. I would punch the walls of my room a lot they would see me doing so but would leave me to it even to the point my hand was swollen so much I was taken to A&E.

 

The hospital is supposed to be a place of safety and rehabilitation but this is definitely not the case here.

At most I will call it a holding cell until the psychiatrist deems you fit for discharge.

 

The food

The food at the hospital is vile and nasty and served without care. Breakfast is fine as it is cereal and you cant go wrong with that , well unless you don’t wake up for it and lets face it at 7am when you have been given night time medications at 10pm…depending on it the nurse in charge actually starts it on time or if there is a delay from someone on the ward having an episode who is really going to be awake for it.

 

When I was in as a teenager they actually made you get up and go to breakfast lunch and dinner and offer supper too but the care seems to have drastically fallen in 15 years.

 

The lunch and dinner are to be avoided at all costs. This is an actual dinner from 2016.

Blog photo fod I looked for the budget info which was unavailable but it it is widely known that more is spent on prisoners food than a person in hospital. It was like a game of guess the meal. When you are trying to recover mentally you do not want to eat anyway so the food could go a long way in aiding recovery of the patients. You are also watched like a hawk with knives even though they are as blunt as anything.

They count all cutlery (yes even the spoons ) in and out of the trolley.

Occupational therapy

What therapy?

You would go days and days with nobody being there and they deemed that having newspapers, tea and biscuits on the ward as occupational therapy.

 

Back when I was 16 you actually had two sessions Monday to Friday that you were encouraged to attend. Now the staff are more then happy for you to lay in bed all day and leave them to sit in the office eating whatever luxury items they had brought in with them and drink endless cups of tea and coffee.

 

Pretty much the only staff on the ward where those who were on eye sight for the patients needing one to one care, this is supposed mean you are watched 24/7 but even then I know of patients who managed to cut themselves or ligature themselves whilst on one to one watch.

 

Ways out for those desperate to escape

 

There are a few ways out of the hospital without discharge some I witnessed and some I did myself while on section last year.

 

For some they literally break free kicking the fire escape doors , for others they may injure themselves needing treatment in hospital (often with items brought in; some ladies I know of swallowed smuggled in razor blades and cut themselves. I on the other hand hit my hand repeatedly but never ran from hospital as my treatment was actually pretty quick).

 

For others they bide their time and wait for escorted leave and just run off only coming back if found by the police. No matter what where there is a will there is a way out. The staff don’t care either way they just care about their wages and cups of tea.

 

Discharge

They will discharge you when they see fit and no matter what you say will change this. They have their own set agenda when it comes to discharge and pretty much always you do not get the follow up ‘care’ that they state in your discharge plan.

Its like ‘lets see who is the least at risk so we can ship them out and make way for the next vulnerable poor soul. ‘

To sum this up, Littlebrook Hospital is a disgrace to vulnerable and at risk people.

The lack of care, food and medications is astronomical and the place is worse then a prison.

You have to wait days for a review , you cannot smoke in there causing a lot of people to kick off and react as the staff are now not even supposed to give you supervised leave so you can smoke. I know smoking is no ideal but for a huge amount of mentally unwell people it calms them.

 I have been hospital free for a year and I can only hope that my mental health does not decline so much again that I have to be admitted


This was written for you by a Masked Avenger. A Masked Avenger could be any one of our regular writers, a group of writers or a guest writer. Written to bring you uninhibited truths that need to be told.


If you would like to submit an article to the Masked Avenger please email us at: the-avenger1@hotmail.com