The funny thing about grief is we automatically assume that when someone is experiencing grief, that it’s due to them losing someone close to them. We jump to the assumption that it’s their parent, grandparent, sibling, child, or friend. Someone who is a part of their everyday life. What we never take into consideration is that grief can affect absolutely anyone in so many different circumstances. Maybe your grieving for a friend who’s lost their loved one, you feel all their emotion, feel all their pain, their heartache. Perhaps you grieve a neighbor, someone you didn’t know particularly well, but somehow now feel their absence on the road you live on.
I was sent, by a friend, her own experience with grief shared through her words, and when I finished reading it I was taken back. I had a huge reality check within my own self that grief really does affect us all in so many ways, and it’s so clear to me now that every single person’s journey is equally as important, as equally valid, and must be shared. What I’m going to share with you now, it’s about the loss of someone who needed great care, someone who wasn’t mentally able to take care or of themselves. And how the caregiver is now living with grief.
I want you to sit and read her experience, and really take that time to notice what I’ve spoken about. Notice her pain, her struggle, as she walks her own path, grieving the loss of someone she didn’t ever really get the chance to know. I respect her braveness, and honor her journey, and as always as we all must do, support her wholeheartedly within her grief.
The truths of working in mental health.
I had always had a keen interest in making a difference. Having worked in the NHS and care sector from the age of 17 I had always had an interest in working within a psychiatric setting.
In January 2017 I started training for my new role as a Mental Healthcare Assistant. I was sent off on a 2-day PEACE training course, this course was about safe restraints in tricky situations, how to work within your team safely, and how to keep the most volatile of patients safe. Nothing and certainly not a mere 2-day course could prepare me for what laid ahead.
In February 2017 after 2 weeks shadowing on the ward, I am now a fully-fledged employee and counted on the staffing numbers. I’ve barely had time to understand my surroundings and now I’m part of a team of 6, 2 qualified Mental Health Nurses, and 4 Mental Health Care Assistants. The ward is designed to hold 20 patients in a secure setting, with a safe setting for a section 136, a section 136 is a patient that’s found to be acting in a bizarre manner in the community. The patients on the ward are aged 18-65.
My first day on numbers was probably the biggest eye-opener for me. Myself, along with a colleague have taken a very mentally unstable patient for a routine health check: physical observations. After checking the patient’s blood pressure the patient has run to their room, me and my colleague have followed them. This patient had managed to blockade their room and block the locks on the doors, the patient was using a plastic spoon to cut themself. There is blood dripping to the floor and we have no way of gaining access. The alarm is pulled and workers from across the unit come to assist, I leave my colleagues to try and talk the patient into letting us in, whilst I phone the fire brigade and an ambulance. Due to secure and strengthened glass gaining access is proving very difficult.
Every patient has their own room and these are lockable with fireproof doors. Time is ticking and more and more blood is pumping to the floor. Eventually after what felt like a lifetime the fire-brigade manage to gain access by cutting through the lock. We run in, the patient fights us off, we are restraining a patient with gaping wounds in their arms, blood everywhere. We continue to put pressure on the wounds, whilst trying to keep the patient safe, we assist the patient to the ambulance and 3 members of staff end up having to go to A&E with the patient due to how mentally disturbed the patient is at the current time. That leaves just 3 members of staff on a full ward with 19 patients. Stitches, a plastic surgery consultation, and about 4 hours later the patient is brought back to the ward and held on 1:1 constant observations. Luckily this means we can book an extra staff member. That was just my first day.
Over the next few weeks, the alarm becomes a constant sound. Running down corridors from room to room, stopping patients from cutting themselves, cutting ligatures off of patient’s necks, and restraining patients who are having psychotic episodes. It’s never-ending. The ingenuity of the patients constantly amazing the staff. The lengths a desperately mentally unwell individual will go to, to hurt themselves.
For me, the most tragic day was yet to come. This was the day where my life forever changed. The alarm goes off we run down the corridor, a patient is being lifted to the floor with a ligature being removed from the neck. Staff run in from every direction and CPR begins. The ambulance is called and the police also arrive. The patient isn’t coming around but there is a pulse, feeling a patient’s ribs crack under your hands whilst giving CPR because the reality is trying to keep someone alive is brutal. Eventually, a mechanical chest compression machine is applied and the patient is taken to the hospital. Sadly that patient never made it.
The staff all feel like failures, we are questioning ourselves and trying to work out we missed. We return to work the next day but the images haunt us, they still haunt me now 3 years on. This is the point I know this career path is over. This is the point where I want to quit but I continue in the job until October of that year, my shortest employment in history. I didn’t realise until I stopped that actually, I am now a patient myself, I now suffer from PTSD, it is very very real and horrific. I live my life of hyper-alert, analysing every situation. If I see a builder and he has his back to his tools I’m instantly looking for the patient who might grab them. I could be walking out of Tesco and the alarm goes off I instantly want to run and find the patient that is self-harming, it’s actually exhausting.
A recent study showed that workers in the healthcare industry had higher odds (95%) for mood disorders, anxiety disorders, sleep disorders, and any psychiatric disorders then the comparative reference group did. There are staff members that are now patients. There are staff members that are completely unsupported and expected to deal with these things and be resilient. Mental health workers need supporting and protecting they are such valuable assets. We constantly read in the press the patient sided stories but what about the staff. When will the really hard conversations begin?
Life for me took a while to get back to normal and don’t even think my normal today is what my normal once was. However, it has opened my eyes, made me much more sympathetic and understanding as a person. It has also allowed me to follow my dreams and be more determined to achieve, as it’s the reality of not knowing what’s around the corner. xxx
It’s so clear to me as I hope it is to you that as human beings we need to be compassionate about what others have experienced. Not one person’s grief is more important than another. Every single feeling, every single word, every single journey matters. Grief is messy, its complex, unpredictable. But we must support one another in order to heal. Remind yourself of this when you cross paths with someone who is going through loss. Kindness, compassion, and love are free x