This is the third of six posts in a thread devoted to the stories of those who have gone on the record to talk about their experiences of psychiatric hospitalisation (not necessarily at Bethlem or the Maudsley, be it noted) between 1975 and 1995. In telling their stories, these people have performed a valuable service to a public that is generally uninformed and fearful when it comes to issues of mental ill-health. Some have spoken of experiencing depression or distress at the same time as continuing to shoulder clinical responsibilities within mental healthcare, thereby addressing another taboo – the permeability of the distinction between patient and professional. There are many such stories. A couple of years ago we highlighted one drawn from Wounded Healers: Mental Health Workers’ Experiences of Depression by Vicky Rippiere and Ruth Williams (1985), and here we draw attention to another.
Lydia Scotting was an occupational therapist who was admitted to hospital in Canada in the early 1980s following a suicide attempt. “The next thing I remember”, she wrote, “is waking in a hospital bed, surrounded by a maze of tubes. I felt disgusted with myself for still being alive. I later learned that only my daughter’s quick response when she found me, my husband’s skilful resuscitation and the resourcefulness of the ambulance men had saved my life.”1 Scotting candidly admitted to being “ill at ease” on the hospital’s psychiatric ward “because I couldn’t distinguish some of the patients from the nurses because no one wore uniforms”, and an offer of occupational therapy was initially “of course refused – ‘Anywhere but there’, I thought.”2 The baseline from which she started her road to recovery was not promising: “I felt completely desolate because I believed there was nowhere I could turn to for help and I was unable to voice this fear”.3
Nevertheless, she did recover, and later provided some interesting reflections on the precise nature of this recovery: “I would like to be able to say that since my recovery I have conquered all my character deficits but unhappily this isn’t so. I do, though, now have a much greater understanding of myself and my character flaws. I have a greater self-respect, too, because of the knowledge of what I experienced and survived…I will probably always be an anxious person, but I hope this trait is less pronounced now. The illness was a terrible experience…however, now I am no longer subject to devastating mood swings and I feel more in control of my future than I did in the past.”4
1 Vicky Rippiere & Ruth Williams, Wounded Healers: Mental Health Workers’ Experiences of Depression (Wiley: Chichester, 1985), p. 114.
2 ibid., pp. 114-115.
3 ibid., p. 118.
4 ibid., pp. 117-118.