The Malta Independent 11 December 2017, Monday

Ward 10

Andrew Azzopardi Wednesday, 22 November 2017, 08:40 Last update: about 18 days ago

Thankfully most of you would not have witnessed the obnoxious and insufferable Ward 10. 

Ward 10 is the infamous Ward that ‘used’ to exist in Mt Carmel Hospital.  Even the thought gives me the jitters.  This is the Ward that used to host drug addicts, hardened criminals and the castoffs that required psychiatric treatment.  The stench and sight of this Ward was cruel.  There was a corridor on both sides of the Ward to ensure the Police Officers and the orderlies could monitor what was happening. Privacy, zero.  At certain points the patients would get so aggressive that they needed to have a beam forced against the door to secure the entry point.  Most of the staff and nurses were miserable and dejected.  Once I witnessed with my own eyes methadone that was covered with ants (probably attracted to the saccharinity).  All the nurse did was brush off the insects with spoon and still administer this same methadone to the patients waiting at the door.  I remember leaving the Ward with tears in my eyes, angry at myself, feeling so ineffective and powerless.   

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Then, at one-point policy makers decided it was time to close that Ward and transfer the patients to other less horrendous (but might I say, still not pretty) Wards. 

Whenever I am driving by the Hospital I get flashbacks of the people I used to visit in Ward 10 in my vest as social worker and as friend to some others. 

Some who were suicidal managed to see their plan through, who felt that no love, not even that of their families and partners, was a strong enough motivator to make life bearable.  It’s not nice knowing that at least two friends killed themselves even after getting treatment at Mt Carmel Hospital. 

This is not good.

Every time one of us goes down in that way, society needs to take responsibility.  What have we not done? 

The faces of the people I used to visit at Ward 10 used to say it all. 

They were desperate, hurt and in atrocious pain. 

It’s not only the environment and the type of care (or the lack of it) they got that used to get at me, but their poker-faced and expressionless look that meant they felt there is no hope. 

The demons that take over these peoples’ life, uncontrollably in their mind, must be excruciating and agonizing.  Then there is the feeling of letting the people around you down, of being unable to control these negative emotions.  

Now picture having to let go for example of your job or profession because of this fear, a fear you do not have a rational reason to have. 

Now visualize the scenario of wanting to cry yourself to sleep every-day for reasons you cannot put your fingers on. 

Now see in your mind's eye, the vision of being unable to control that feeling of darkness that encapsulated you, that moment when you feel that dying would be the best thing for you, to let go of the pain and the sting your family and loved ones are experiencing. 

Now just for a moment imagine that this is what you have to live with. 

This is what people with mental health challenges have to face, day-in-day out, day-in day-out.

Very true there is therapy, treatment and medication that might be helpful, but struggling with mental health is weighty 

Mental health is a heavy challenge. 

Most of us have gone through one (or many) of these moments; solitude, anxiety, aloneness, distress and unhappiness.

Ward 10 reminds me of these people, of those who are captured by the system and left to decay. 

Let me be clear here. 

I admire some or most of the psychiatrists who work in this system, of the many professionals, social workers, nurses, psychologists, psychotherapists, youth workers, care workers and others who work in close proximity to these people. 

Naturally, I’m not a fan of those in the ‘caring professions’ who charge exorbitant fees for a small follow-up visit, or those who flood the system of their patients with medication that would make a bull feel slumber, or those who use the national health system to create a client base – these will not get any sympathy from me and if they are true to themselves they should be honourable and leave now! 

To illustrate the pain that these people go through here are three narratives of young people I met, telling the story in their own words;

This is ‘Jason’;

‘I am 20 years-old.  I suffer from a mental health condition called bi-polar.  I’ve had to struggle with this condition for so many years.  At a certain stage in my adolescence I would drink and smoke and hang around with the wrong crowd which wasn’t helping me at all.  I think I was doing that because I couldn’t take the pressure of feeling so bad at certain moments in my life and so high during others.  These so called ‘friends’ were pushing me towards drug use.  They used to tell me that taking drugs makes you deal better with your problems – and I used to believe them.  Luckily I was strong enough to realise what this crowd was doing to me and I could get away before the problem took over.  Schooling when still young was also a very negative experience for me.  The teachers wouldn’t even take me to the outings with the rest of the students.  I would be bullied for most of the secondary school. The teachers didn’t manage to stop this abuse even though my parents repeatedly tried to get the school to deal with this issue. ... There was a particular scholastic year I remember very well when I was practically depressed all throughout. At a certain point the psychologist and the psychiatrist did try to help me, with little success.  Their fees were too expensive and my family couldn’t afford this cost.  Unfortunately, the biggest humiliation came from the parish priest who used to put a toy sheep on my head and made me go round with it during catechism classes to humiliate me. We spoke to the social workers on this issue but in all truth they never gave me practical solutions to resolve my problems.’

This is ‘Isabelle’:

‘I am 24 years old and consider myself as a mental health survivor.  When I used to go to school I enjoyed myself a lot.  At a certain stage I developed a nervous tick and people would laugh at me including teachers and I didn’t want to go to school anymore.  Eventually I started collapsing every time I felt stressed – I started passing out.  I did not have any friend. My only friend was at secondary school.  When I went to Junior College I enjoyed it there.  However, at a later stage I started feeling depressed and got suicidal.  There was a period in my life when I was constantly sad and depressed, spending all my time in my room.  It was the moment when I realised it was time to be admitted to Mater Dei Hospital for treatment.  Consequently, I attempted suicide because I didn’t want to go to Mt Carmel Hospital.  I was chronically unhappy.  I would spend all my time on the computer, sleeping or listening to music.  I was especially afraid of facing the night.  Something that happened that has marked my life was when I was going to get raped after I got to know someone on the internet and made a blind date.  I get moments when I wanted to harm myself.  I don’t know if it has anything to do but my father was on medication as well.  Since my father died my eldest brother has taken on the role of parent.  One of the lowest moments in my life was when my father passed away.   Luckily my brother is a doctor and he is able to guide me.  I am very critical of the teachers in general and the PSD teachers in particular.  They never supported me in my life.  There was a teacher who even made fun of me.  Examinations were another big problem.  They didn’t help because they created more pressure and anxiety on me.’  

This is ‘Claire’;

‘If I had to pinpoint an experience that had a major effect on me it was when my parents were getting separated. I saw too much fighting and I felt a great deal of instability.  When my parents tried to sort things out the situation became even worse.  My mother tried to be as present as possible but my father was completely disinterested in me.  Even though I was young and had nothing to do with the clashes at home, my father would offend me and call me names.  My only link to sanity in the family was my grandfather whom I loved immensely - he died not too long ago.  I used to blame myself for the problems between my parents but soon realised that this wasn’t the case.    This was the biggest loss for me which I couldn’t manage to cope with. I felt that all was over.  This situation made me very anxious and made me worry all the time.  At seven years old I was already thinking and wanting death.   I had so much fear building up in me.  This situation eventually shifted into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). I became obsessed with cleanliness but on the other hand this created so much stress that there were moments where I would not wash for weeks on end.  At times I would go weeks on end not washing myself because I thought that I would be throwing away the germs outside.  The need to have rituals so that I feel secure was crucial.  There were moments when I thought that I was so different from other people that I was sent from outer space. My experience of bullying was most often shown by being left alone with hardly any friends at all.  OCD made me suffer a lot.  Even though 179 was very supportive there wasn’t too much continuation of support.  I’m tired I just cannot take it anymore.’

These are true stories, yes real life accounts of people struggling with their ‘imp’. 

That is why, even though we got decent explanations from the Minister of Health about the current state of repairs at Mt Carmel Hospital we just cannot wait any longer – Ward 10 and anything that reminds us of it, needs to fade into oblivion, needs to be flushed out of our collective memory and instead flooded with all that is good and state of the art in the mental health sector.

The situation is despondent. 

People now are feeling let down, patients receiving psychiatric care and support need to be positioned at the same level of people who are undergoing chemo or other heath conditions. 

We need to stop interpreting mental health as the Cinderella of our health services. Changes need to be made swiftly. 

Let’s steer mental health to a new and reinvigorated template.

 

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