Wednesday 22 September 2010

The Great Unwashed

We are glued to the telly this morning watching Hafal's representatives giving evidence to the National Assembly on PTSD and wider mental health problems experienced by veterans of UK armed forces. I have previously blogged on this matter (see this post) but our evidence today has the added force of personal experience presented by Hafal Practice Leader John Davies and Staff Volunteer Paul Cleary plus a written personal account from Terry, a service user with a telling story of army life and what followed.

It must be the military background of our witnesses which makes their testimony so pungent and to the point (calling an entrenching tool an entrenching tool as it were). John startlingly takes service commissioners to task for treating the voluntary sector as "the great unwashed", specifically for not respecting the first-hand experience of charities which assist veterans. Andrew R T Davies AM repeats this term back to John (with some relish I suspect) to check he did hear right! Terry's account is also eloquent and I quote from it here...

I joined the army in 1989, the Gulf War started the following year and I went out as a Combat Engineer. I saw some terrible things but what affected me most was six months of isolation in the Gulf, being stuck with a bullying corporal who could make life difficult. The army can be a good cover-up for anyone who has depressive symptoms as the culture revolves around working hard and being rewarded in beer. Army life is full of "high highs and low lows", it can be a melting pot for people with a mental disorder and drinking covers up a lot of it.

Army officials should have realised I was ill then because I was wandering round the camp in the middle of the night cleaning things. Eventually I went to the town’s cathedral thinking I was going to get married. I bought a £400 ring for a bride I was convinced was going to come. Eventually I sat at the back of the church and collapsed, crying. A priest found me, called the police and I was sent to Catterick Military Hospital. The hospital's psychiatrist told me I had bipolar disorder, I was hyper-manic and that on a scale of one to ten I was 15.

The staff tried to give me medication but because of my memories of the rave scene, I thought taking pills was wrong, so I refused. After a few days five nurses waited until I was unaware and jumped me. Four held my limbs down, the fifth injected me. That was the worst moment of my life. They gave me a massive dose of Haloperidol which did not agree with me; this meant that one second I was conversing with angels the next I was suffering the worse depression imaginable.

Since then, when medics have tried to give me Haloperidol, I’ve tried to run away. During my last episode (in 2008) I tried to tell those treating me how bad it was but they wouldn’t listen and tried to force it on me, so I ran away from a hospital in North Wales and ended up being beaten up in Cheltenham.

You can view the Assembly session here, an interview with Hafal's Alun Thomas here and Mental Health Wales' coverage here. Terry's account will feature in our new publication "12 Lives" - personal stories of people who have experience of serious mental illness. Watch this space.