Elizabeth* had experienced mood instability and intermittent depression since she was 13 years old, but it wasn’t until her 20s that she was diagnosed with complex mental health conditions.
At the age of 25, Elizabeth went to see both a GP and a psychologist, as she was having problems sleeping.
I felt high, my thoughts were racing, and I was distressed. They both said I was fine and dismissed my concerns.
A few days later, Elizabeth’s mental health deteriorated, and she was compulsorily admitted to a public hospital for the first time. She said she ‘felt unsafe and was very distressed by the behaviour of male patients’.
During Elizabeth’s second psychotic episode, at 26 years old, she called the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team 11 times over a two‑week period seeking help. She said she was once again dismissed. However, her parents were taken more seriously when they called the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team, and she was again compulsorily admitted to a public hospital. She felt the admission could have been prevented if the Crisis Assessment and Treatment Team had supported her earlier.
During that second admission, Elizabeth describes:
I had a male patient try to come into my room and he was pulled back by staff members. It triggered nightmares and flashbacks of sexual assault. I have a history of rape, and that is largely a trigger of my psychosis and a lot of my delusions are around rape.
Elizabeth was hospitalised three times against her will and restrained on all admissions. During two of her admissions, she was put in seclusion.
Being restrained reminded me of being raped.
I think seclusion has no therapeutic value—it’s done for the convenience of the institution. I feel that I’ve recovered from my mental health conditions in spite of, not because of the mental health system.
Elizabeth reported that in each admission she was sexually harassed and physically assaulted by male patients, and while staff tried to make the environment safe, they weren’t always able to.
I have about 20 different suicide plans to end my life in preference to being back in a public mental health unit. I am in fear for my life if I have to go back to a public hospital.
Elizabeth said that if she had entered the mental health system at a younger age, the effect of her experiences would have been worse.
At least by the time I was 25, I knew a bit about myself in the world, I knew what my capabilities were. It was easier psychologically to not feel completely worthless and infantilised because the system is very infantilising. It’s hard to rebuild from that psychologically, particularly after so much forced medication, assault, forced confinement.
Elizabeth is passionate about the ‘dignity of risk’ and says this is why she is still alive.
Simply put, people with mental health conditions should be able to make informed decisions, to take risks, take responsibility for our choices, and come to terms with the effects of our actions. The dignity of risk is about both not being prevented from having agency; and being enabled to exercise agency.
Source: Witness Statement of ‘Elizabeth Porter’ (pseudonym), 27 April 2020; ‘Elizabeth Porter’ (pseudonym), Correspondence to the RCVMHS, 2020.Note: *Name has been changed in accordance with an order made by the Commission.