by Kathy Masterson
A LIMERICK mother of three has penned an open letter to Ministers Kathleen Lynch and Leo Varadkar to highlight her experiences of her recent stay in Ward 5B, an acute mental health unit at University Hospital Limerick.
The 34-year-old woman, who asked not to be named, was admitted to the ward in November 2014 after attempting suicide; she says she found the experience “traumatic” and that she received “inadequate support while in a very dark time in my life”.
The woman told the Limerick Post that she attempted suicide after suffering from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of childhood sexual abuse.
Luckily, she was saved by volunteers from the Corbett Suicide Prevention Patrol and was admitted to 5B after a short stay in the accident and emergency department.
The woman alleges that as a suicide risk she was not adequately supervised in A&E and that she twice attempted to harm herself.
The letter states: “When I went to A&E I was still highly suicidal and told your staff that. I was left many times unsupervised in which time I was in a room with needles and sharp objects.
“I had shown all signs that I was not well enough to be responsible for my own safety. I needed your staff to recognise that and for measures to be put in place so I could not harm myself but this was not what I got.”
The woman described her experience in 5B as “horrible”.
She said: “I was put in a room called ‘high obs’ which meant that I was classified as needing high observation, I agree that I did need that. People who are highly suicidal are sent there as it has more staff to monitor it. The problem for me was that very violent people were also in ‘high obs’.
“I spent many nights awoken at 3am by someone screaming for hours on end, one person in there had attacked a nurse with keys, another had tried to attack a nurse with a scissors. All our curtains were pulled off one night at 4am and some of our wardrobe doors by someone out of control. I was very afraid. I had gone in there literally having lost the will to live and then put somewhere that felt like hell on earth”.
The woman also claims that at least half the activities were cancelled on a regular basis, and patients were rarely allowed to use some of the rooms and facilities “as there was never enough staff to supervise them”.
She said that on one occasion, a male patient was sexually relieving himself during a meditation class and that nurses did nothing to stop him.
“I in no way blame the other patients, we were all there as we needed help in different ways, however, what I’m trying to show is that the time there was far from safe, far from healthy and very difficult to recover in the environment. It certainly didn’t inspire hope or provide a place to recouperate,” the woman added.
The woman praised the treatment she has received from her psychiatrist and psychologist at St Anne’s Day Hospital, but she believes that some mental health staff are in need of additional training.
She says that when she told a nurse that she had thoughts about hurting herself, the nurse told her to “do them a favour and at least discharge myself first and do it elsewhere”.
After making a second suicide attempt, the woman says that another nurse told her “that my slits on my wrists will never be gone and that my kids will no doubt see it and know their mum is a wreck which will be very difficult for them and give them mental problems too”.
“I needed hope, I needed someone to understand I was ill and not meaning to cause any hurt but desperately wanted the pain to go away. What I got was coldness, judgement and a lack of any compassion and understanding.”
The woman concluded: “Massive improvement is needed in the psychiatric units. It is inadequate, training of staff is desperately needed. I am here by the skin of my teeth in spite of the care I got while in 5B, certainly not because of it.”
In response to the woman’s letter, a HSE spokesperson told the Limerick Post that they do not comment on individual patient care, but that the HSE is reviewing the letter “and will examine it in the context of the issues/concerns expressed”.