Left in a solitary room with nothing but an orange

1990
Mary Hogan O'Shea

ON CHRISTMAS Eve five years ago, Mary Hogan O’Shea found herself in a solitary room in a psychiatric ward with nothing but an orange.

“They even took my knickers, my prayer book – everything. I was left with no dignity,” she told the Limerick Post.

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Mary, from Clonlara, makes no secret of the fact that she has battled mental health difficulties for many years.

But she believes that now, in recovery, she can offer hope to people still in the throes of such difficulties and turn the spotlight on how the services fall short.

Having been treated for depression for many years, Mary was eventually diagnosed with chronic paranoid schizophrenia. But far from helping the situation, she went into a spiral of negative behaviour and alcoholism to cope.

She feels the diagnosis was disabling.

“There was very little support around what it meant, nothing about what I could do other than take medication.

“The problem is that the whole emphasis in the mental health services is on medication. There is no attempt at talk therapy and no real attempt at directing people in difficulty towards the support services that can help them to help themselves. There’s no emphasis on recovery – only drug treatment.”

After her first stint in a psychiatric unit, Mary took the medication prescribed for her but as often happens, having found a middle ground, she felt she no longer needed it and five years ago, she stopped taking it with disastrous results.

“I was high, in the ecstatic phase. I got in trouble for speeding in my car and was banned from driving. Eventually, things got so bad that my family intervened and had to section me to have me committed to the psychiatric ward again.”

Mary says she knows that stopping the medication was a bad mistake and agrees that she needed to be hospitalised.

“Hospital was the right place for me but the way it was handled was absolutely brutal. Three men arrived at my home and told me I was going with them, whether I liked it or not. They dragged me out of my house, kicking and screaming, in front of my neighbours who were collecting their children from across the road.

“When I got to hospital, I was brought to what can only be described as a cell. They they took everything from me. All I was left with were hospital clothes. They even took my knickers.

“On Christmas Eve, my sister came all the way from Galway to visit me but they wouldn’t let her see me. They even took my prayer books. The psychiatrist said I was praying too much. I was praying to try to cope with what was happening.”

Part of my plan to get back to health was “to write down my needs and concerns. I did that and made copies for the people involved in my hospital treatment. When I presented what I had written at a meeting I was told it was a waste of paper.”

After losing a sister to suicide, Mary feared she would go the same route.

“My amazing son saved my life. He was abroad. I rang him and told him I felt suicidal and he talked me round.”

Before her last brush with the in-hospital services, Mary had pursued the peer support route, to great effect.

She sought the services of Console and Pieta House as well as the Living Links organisation who offer support to those bereaved through suicide.

Later, she got a job with ‘Shine’ a mental health support group and having trained with them, worked with the organisation for 18 years.

“I learned about recovery, not just medication. I learned to focus on wellness. That’s not something they offer you in the psychiatric services. It’s all about the drugs.”

Mary told the Limerick Post “I love my life now. I walk and cycle, I meditate and do yoga.

“My life was all loneliness until I accessed peer support. But I had to find that for myself. There seems to be very little interest in that sort of therapy in the services.”

Mary has sent a written complaint about her treatment in the psychiatric ward and pointing out the lack of access to peer support services to the HSE.

She is awaiting a reply.

Freephone Samaritans on 116 123