It's OK To Say: Hazel opens up about her mental health challenges since being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder
PUBLISHED: 19:00 01 May 2019
With mental health services stretched locally, writer Sharon Ross met up with one local user to find out how her experiences matched up.
To meet Hazel, you would not know that she had a mental health problem at all. She is bright and cheery but also very open to talk about the daily challenges she faces with severe anxiety and chronic low moods.
After a difficult childhood with a physically abusive and alcoholic father, Hazel, 37, worked night shifts as a support worker, but she said she found this lonely: “I was working on my own with one service user... and I'd come home [and] my husband would be at work.”
She also suffered from severe asthma which left her in hospital where she experienced panic attacks and a psychotic episode. A few weeks after leaving hospital, having been prescribed anti-depressants by her GP which she said made things worse, she took an overdose.
On the face of it, from there on she had a timely experience of mental health services with a clear pathway of care.
After her overdose she was admitted to Kingfisher Court Psychiatric hospital in Radlett where she was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) - a disorder that can present itself in people who have had a traumatic childhood.
“BPD means basically my emotions run from zero to 90. So, I'm very sensitive to how I feel. I can't always manage how I feel and my moods can change really, really rapidly.”
From Kingfisher Court she was transferred to The Orchards Acute Day Treatment Unit in Hemel Hempstead where she received intensive therapeutic sessions seven days a week. This was gradually tapered off and she became under the care of Colne House in Watford where she had support worker, a care coordinator and took part in weekly art therapy sessions.
At the moment Hazel attends a Dialectic Behavioural Therapy (DBT) group, a specialist therapy for those with BPD.
Hazel's care coordinator also introduced her to the services of Mind in Watford where she regularly attends a support group as well as taking part in their Wellbeing Through Learning programme on topics such as confidence building and managing anxiety.
So, on the face of it, the NHS have done a good job with Hazel but she realised she could not relay on the service for everything.
She did not go to Kingfisher Court on a section – it was something that was offered to her. But she said: “I wanted to go. I wanted to get better.”
Although it's important to get the right services this desire to get better is key to mental health recovery. Also, the daily encouragement from her husband, Richard, as well as the Samaritans text service and the encouragement of her local Slimming World group, have all provided vital support.
But as with many people with mental health difficulties, Hazel has had to struggle to get appropriate care at the same time when she was experiencing a struggle within herself.
She felt that hospital staff treating her asthma were not at all sympathetic to her mental health difficulties. And as is often the case with people in her situation Hazel was not aware what the cause of her problems were – when was having panic attacks she thought that she was having a heart attack.
“They didn't explain it to me. I heard them say, 'Oh, it's in her head'. They could have been a bit more sensitive about the way they were speaking about me in front of me.”
While at Kingfisher Court, Hazel saw a fellow service user assault a nurse, which increased her anxiety: “He just walked in and punched [her] in the face. I was really shocked and I just froze.”
She also felt there was not much to occupy her in the facility; she was not allowed outside and said “I felt like I was in a prison”.
And a final struggle was to get timely treatment – a complaint often made by mental health service users.
BPD is notoriously difficult-to-treat and evidence suggests that DBT is the best treatment for it: “I was told that DBT would only be for people that self-harm all the time. And because I only [self-harmed] once they said that I didn't need it. I had to fight to get it.”
Ultimately after a year on the waiting list she started the therapy she so desperately needed.
Although for Hazel, at least, NHS mental health services have not been perfect, they have set her own her way and given her determination, family support and follow-up care she needs on her journey towards a sustainable recovery.