I have spent almost half my life ‘within’ the NHS mental health system. For over 15 years I have needed and depended upon its services and support. If I reach a state of crisis, I have to attend their facilities. And I have been many times. I have had severe depression, self-harmed and attempted to take my own life on several occasions.
Over the years I have seen both the good and not-so-good sides of the institution. I have been the subject of physical restraint procedures, now disallowed, such as being forced face-down onto a bed. But I have also been the recipient of individual acts of kindness, and the official protocols have improved as well. In fact, notwithstanding some blips, I believe I was getting ‘better’. I saw the power and positivity of ‘good mental health’ practices, and before March 2020 was doing a course with the aim of becoming a counsellor.
However, during the past three years of Covidian madness I have been exposed to a side of the mental health establishment that I can only describe as systemically and institutionally abusive, with some staff who seem to have either lost – or never had – the most basic qualities of empathy and consideration for vulnerable people in their care. How else would you describe a situation where, having recently tried to kill myself, I was sitting in front of a doctor, tears running down my cheeks, begging to be allowed to remain maskless, only to be told that she “had a duty to protect and keep safe people vulnerable to the virus”?
In mid-2020, when mask mandates began to appear, I contacted my local NHS Trust, Mersey Care, to clarify my situation regarding exemption. Their reply reassured me that, as I was legally exempt, I would have no difficulty accessing their services or buildings. They further buoyed me by saying that this was official policy and would be communicated to all staff within the trust.
Hearing this was an immense relief. My conditions include Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder as well as anxiety and I have a history of trauma with symptoms of PTSD. Wearing a mask – and being around others wearing them – is extremely challenging.
Without seeing facial expressions, communication becomes very difficult, and my anxiety causes me to experience panic attacks which masks and shields ramp up in their intensity. Basically, masks trigger flashbacks, which lead to panic attacks which in turn result in me hyperventilating. I become dizzy, feeling like I’m suffocating.
It’s distressing and I cannot focus on anything around me. I’ve tried to wear a mask, but the longest I’ve managed to go without experiencing these symptoms is a couple of minutes.
Read More: Masks Give Me Panic Attacks – But the NHS Refused to Exempt Me, Leaving Me Cut Off From Support and Suicidal