Your caring mental health team: they know what’s good for you
Last month Freedom2Choose received a distressing telephone call from a patient in a secure unit in a mental health hospital in England.
Using a payphone, and being both polite and perfectly logical, the patient told his story. He was compulsorily detained in a mental hospital, and was likely to be so for some time. The hospital was introducing a total outdoor smoking ban and the patients were opposed to it. All the units have an outdoor quadrangle where the patients have been smoking, but this too is to be banned. He was concerned that patients will take dangerous risks to attempt smoking.
We telephoned the MIND group in his area. The woman we spoke to was immensely sympathetic, and said that most of the people they ran services for smoked, and they wouldn’t dream of banning smoking outdoors in their premises. She agreed that it was a serious infringement of his rights and those of the other patients who smoked. She also confirmed that many patients who would previously have entered hospital voluntarily are now refusing to do so because they know they won’t be able to smoke. When, however, we got an email from her, she had softened her attitude (been leaned on?), and simply told us that they had asked the hospital and that the local NHS Hospital Trust had decided to ban smoking on the entire site, ‘for the health of the patients’.
So, this is the state we have ended up in. Someone finds themselves, sadly, suffering from a mental illness to such a serious degree that they need to be sectioned on a long-term basis. The mental illness has not been caused in any way by smoking: in fact, many patients find that smoking helps to take the edge off their illness.
The patronising response to this from the NHS is that for their own good, they will be banned from smoking while receiving treatment.
This adds to the patients’ distress, does nothing to help the reason they are in hospital, and in fact is preventing many patients from seeking the help they desperately need. The trust between a patient suffering from mental illness and those who should be caring for them has completely broken down, driven by this bloody all-consuming obsession with smoking cessation.
Anecdotally, we also know from some of our members who live near Rampton hospital and who have had conversations with staff who work there – where smoking was completely banned some years ago – who report in private that the biggest and growing health problem now faced by patients there is morbid obesity, not helped by the side effects of some anti-psychotic drugs – which wasn’t a problem before.
We were particularly interested, therefore, in this recent case from New Zealand. Waitemata District Health Board in Auckland has sparked off a legal review after banning smoking throughout its premises and grounds.
The suicide of an outpatient who refused to seek treatment due to the smoking ban at Hillmorton hospital in Christchurch has led to claims that smoking bans in hospitals are torture on patients who smoke.
Barrister Richard Francois said in his opening statement before the Judicial Review that according to the victim’s mother he enjoyed visiting the hospital prior to the ban, where he had admitted himself due to suicidal urges, until the smoking ban came into force. Smoking was an integral part of his life which was denied to him by hospital staff.
Francois further states that psychiatric patients are segregated, locked in rooms and denied freedom to smoke at a time when they are under stress, hauled away from families, friends and employment.
Mental Illness is a very tough event for those who suffer from it. It really does not matter what level it is at: it’s highly stressful not only for patients but their family and friends, and it is not their fault. Often the decision to smoke was taken when of ‘sound’ mind and not as a result of their illness.
So, by what right do the medical profession seek to cause further distress? Is it not bad enough that those of sound mind are relentlessly bullied, some pushed into depression, and that at least one medication prescribed to wean them off smoking actually creates suicidal urges, without the medical profession torturing those whose minds may already be shattered by removing one of the few free choices that they can make, and that brings them relief?
It’s time to put the caring back into the caring profession. Angry? Damn right we are. What the hell is going on here?
H/T John Watson &”sheenadon”.