Recently, there has been a lot of negative media and stories coming out of the mental health wards in New Zealand. My heart breaks with every story and for every person failed by the system and I am sorry for every loss due to the increase in demand of those seeking health care. However, while reading and seeing these stories, I have also started seeing people slamming those who work within the system and so I have decided to share my story to show you the side of the mental health wards that is currently not being talked about.
Suicide seemed like the only option for me for quite some time and after one of my attempts I remember laying in the ED ward, angry I had failed my attempt and already planning my next that would be sure to work. I remember the psychiatrist coming into my room and telling me that I was being placed under the Mental Health Act and would be admitted into the psychiatric ward for a few days until I was myself safe. Little did I know that those days would turn into a month. I remember being terrified, I had tried to end my life before but I had never been admitted into the psychiatric ward so I had no idea what to expect. It was already about midnight and before I knew it I was in a car being escorted to another building next to the hospital with a nurse on either side of me. I walked in the door and was asked to sit in the foyer while my notes were handed over. A mental health nurse came over to me, and with a very caring tone asked me to take the string out of my hoodie and also the laces off my shoes as I prepared to go through. I took them off and she guided me through these big doors and down a dark corridor. As we approached my room, I was terrified and in tears. I felt like I was in prison and my room made it look like that. There was writing on the walls above my bed, no windows except the one in my door that the nurses would use to check me every 10 minutes. I was scared, alone and I had no idea what it was going to be like in there. As my nurse came in to check on me after I had finally settled in at about 2am, I heard a man screaming and then a rush of nurses coming past my door into the room next to me as an alarm went off calling nurses from other wards into our unit. This continued over the weekend as I sat isolated in my prison-like room with only the nurses to talk to. My entire situation, both inside and outside the hospital told me that I shouldn’t be here, that I should be dead and that’s what I deserved. However, while I was in the intensive care unit I met a nurse who changed my thinking pattern. She began to sit with me and talk with me about everything - about life, funny things, her kids and my hopes and dreams. She would go out of her way to ensure I was okay and would often spend time chatting away when she had come to give me my medication. She never once treated me as if I was crazy. She would constantly challenge me and remind me to dream. She spoke of hope and would remind me of my future. She fought for me when I couldn’t fight for myself and she became someone who I will remember to this day.
I was eventually transferred into an open ward where I met more incredible nurses. One had seen me distressed on my first night there and so she sat with me for about an hour as I cried and then over the next month she was my nurse every single time she was on duty. She constantly went above and beyond with me and never once lost her cool when she could have. I watched her with the other patients during my stay. I watched her care so much for every single person and I saw her interact with them even when they were spitting at her or trying to fight others. Within my time I was in the ward I saw people trying to jump out windows, others with blood running down their arms. I saw some having fits, screaming and hitting and then I saw others who went out on leave and never came back . I saw the affect it had on each nurse. These nurses are unsung heroes of our society. We usually only hear when they (the system) has failed, but not the many, many times that those on the frontline have succeeded. Those nurses really did save my life. With a lack of funding, the mental health services are understaffed and underpaid yet these nurses continue to work, sometimes double shifts just to ensure the safety of your loved ones. They are some of the most caring people I have ever met and despite being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, they do an incredible job. So let’s not forgot the unseen heroes during this mental health epidemic. They are working tirelessly to ensure the safety of their patients and they really are changing lives.