Nicole’s Experience of Life in a Secure Inpatient Mental Health Unit

In 2019, Healthwatch Essex released a report following a study conducted in a secure inpatient mental health unit which worked with young people in Essex. SWEET!3, which you can read here, found that young people often experienced inconsistent care which they felt impeded their likelihood of recovery. One of these young people was Nicole, whose name has been changed to protect her identity. Nicole’s experience is described below:

“I feel failed.” – Nicole

In 2013, Nicole began to self-harm and her friend urged her to speak to a member of school staff, who in turn referred her to CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). She did not hear back about the referral, and so the school wrote to her GP who was able to refer her again. After her second referral, Nicole received an appointment.

Nicole continued to be a CAMHS service user for the next three years. At first she had been discharged after one year in the service, but had later reached crisis point and was taken to A&E. Following this, she was seen by the Crisis Team and eventually admitted to a High Dependency Unit (HDU).

Nicole told us she felt the staff at the HDU had ignored her and she was not recovering. With her mum’s agreement, Nicole discharged herself in December 2015. One month later, she was assigned a crisis worker who she saw once a week. Nicole told us that this crisis worker had provided the best mental health care she had ever received, and she got on well with her. She said that her support had been consistent, and that she had established a good system with Nicole’s school whereby everyone was in regular contact about Nicole’s current mental health.

Later in 2016, Nicole was admitted to another mental health unit. This time she had a positive experience as she was closer to home and found staff to be caring and passionate about young people’s mental health. After 6 months as an inpatient at this hospital, Nicole was discharged. However, during her stay in the hospital, CAMHS had changed to EWMHS (Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health Services) and Nicole was told she would no longer be able to see this crisis worker. She described feeling as though she had lost the only person she could trust throughout her experience of mental illness.

Following her discharge, Nicole’s care-coordinator had told her she would be seen 2-3 times a week by EWMHS. However, some time passed and she had only been seen once, and three weeks later was still waiting to receive news of her second appointment. She had also been told she would receive crisis visits at her home twice a week, but this had not happened.  Nicole was also assigned a new care coordinator but said that after meeting with her three times he told her, “I feel hopeless with you.”

Nicole soon reached crisis point again and spent several nights in general hospital before being admitted to Poplar Adolescent Unit, the third mental health unit she had been admitted to since 2015. She said that she felt that her care coordinator had “abandoned” her, as he had not attended any of her meetings at Poplar Adolescent Unit.

Nicole felt there had been a lack of consistency across her care experience, which she said made it difficult to build the necessary trust to engage with treatment. She felt that a lack of support in community care settings led to her becoming an inpatient three times, and said she felt failed.