‘I need help to get me there emotionally’ says abuse victim

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“Sarah” has been abused as a child and then raped as an adult, the trauma of both having left significant marks on her life

A Derry woman who was sexually abused as a child and has suffered from mental health issues for almost 18 years, has criticised the lack of resources in adult mental health services in the city.

“We need to start treating people as urgently as possible. This is an issue which presents - not only in my office but all constituency offices, if not every advice centre and doctor’s surgery in the city - on an almost daily basis”.

Foyle SDLP MLA, Gerard diver

Sarah - not her real name - says she feels let down by the Western Trust and claims that despite a diagnosis of a personality disorder made by a psychologist 12 years ago, she has still not been given the type of treatment and support which is specific to her illness.

As a result, the 35-years-old local woman says she has attempted to take her life almost 100 times.

While she has been treated as an emergency admission to mental health services on a number of occasions, she says she feels there has never been a comprehensive long term plan for dealing with her illness.

SDLP Foyle MLA, Gerard Diver, has highlighted the local woman’s story and said it is just one of what he described as many “heart wrenching” cases in terms of difficulties in accessing mental health services here.

The Foyle MLA added: “That this city’s mental health service is under severe pressure, is not a secret. While a resolution is not straightforward and will require a massive, co-ordinated, multi-agency approach to address, it is not beyond us.

“We need to start treating people as urgently as possible. Patients should not have to wait so long to access mental health services, particularly when their condition is diagnosed and a suitable treatment identified.

“This is an issue which presents - not only in my office but all constituency offices, if not every advice centre and doctors surgery in the city - on an almost daily basis.”

Despite the personal challenges she has faced in her own mental health journey, local woman, Sarah, has obtained a degree in her chosen field in the community and voluntary sector and is now working towards her Masters qualification. She also works full time in a professional capacity and owns her own home.

“I don’t have a sense of entitlement,” she claims. “I can stand on my own two feet financially but I need help to get me there emotionally. I was abused as a child and then raped as an adult and the trauma of both of those things has left a mark on me. But when it comes to accessing mental health services, I’ve been passed from pillar to post. My disorder means I have difficulty managing my emotions and difficulty managing relationships. It’s as a direct result of the abuse I suffered as a child.

“I have felt so completely and utterly desperate but at one point I was just told to stop attention seeking by a professional who was supposed to help me. I tried to get it across that things were so low for me and I did not want to live anymore, but nobody was listening. I got frustrated and angry. I felt like I had no voice. Nobody seemed to be able to help me.”

Sarah says she has had to repeat the story of her abuse to several different professionals, but argues that, almost 18 years later, she has not received the specific long term help which she needs for her mental health issues. Ironically, in her own career, she regularly works with individuals who are referred into mental health services. Familiar with the service, and the kind of treatment needed for specific illnesses, the local woman says she believes a lack of resources in adult mental health services in the Western Trust area is endangering lives.

“I’m 80 per cent there towards being fully recovered but I feel that I need help to get to 100 per cent stage. In 2009 I was referred for psychological therapies but that isn’t the kind of help that someone with my diagnosis needs. “So, having been diagnosed by a specialist, I’m then referred by another person into a therapy which isn’t appropriate for me. It’s very obvious to me that the resources simply aren’t there. I can’t say I’m surprised that the suicide rate in Derry is so high. Having been thrown around the system for almost 20 years, I can say that the system doesn’t work and people are losing their lives because of it.”

Having had to rely on crisis services many times over recent years, Sarah claims this part of the system in particular is failing vulnerable people locally.

“At night time, there seems to be one Community Psychological Nurse covering ‘Out of Hours,’ Gransha and Accident and Emergency.

“For one person to be responsible for all of that in an area of this size is not practical.

“And, therefore, when people are in crisis, there’s a good chance they will not be heard. I know that because it has happened to me previously.

“The majority of hospital admissions were to the old Clinic B but since Grangewood opened, although it is a good facility, there are less beds available. The health service is relying heavily on the community and voluntary sector which is already really stretched.”

Responding to the claims made, a spokesperson for the Western Trust said that there is a Personality Disorder (PD) Service within the Western Trust, staffed by two Clinical Psychologists but added that “due to limited resources. the demand for PD Service input outstretches capacity.”

The spokesperson added: “It is a Trust-wide service and aims to meet the needs of individuals with a diagnosis of personality disorder and whose needs cannot be met via existing statutory or non-statutory services.

“It is expected that the majority of people with personality issues and formal diagnosis of PD receive input from existing Adult Mental Health Services based on their assessed needs. This is in line with regional and national guidelines.”

The spokesperson also clarified the staffing situation in terms of emergency mental health provision outside of office hours.

The spokesperson said: “A Nurse Practitioner provides night cover from 22.00 hrs until 08.00 hrs each day. 

“This is adequate to meet needs based on referral levels and required clinical interventions.  The nurse is supported by an on-call Consultant Psychiatrist and out of hours Regional Emergency Social Work Service.”

The spokesperson concluded by highlighting that Crisis Services within the Western Trust comprised of Acute inpatient beds, Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment Team, and Acute Day Care.

“In combination these provide a robust framework to support people in mental health crisis including safe and effective alternatives to hospital in keeping with the vision of Bamford,” the spokesperson added.