How NHS Mental Health Services Destroyed My Childhood

Updated: Mar 3, 2019

Trigger warning- this article talks about previous sexual abuse, self-harm and suicidal thoughts.

This article is about survival- its about being able to hold on to the last ounce of hope with your fingertips and find some happiness even in the most horrific situations. Between 1994 and 2006 I was brought up by my lone father, an extremely gentle, educated man with a passion for learning and three degrees. Sadly, my mother has never been a part of my life and I’ve only ever met her once, about fifteen years ago, accompanied with my father as a visitor to the mental hospital she was living in. She suffers from serious schizophrenia. At secondary school I was heavily bullied, had few friends and felt constantly misunderstood. I’ve always preferred my own company rather than playing in groups and used to prefer reading in the school library rather than playing football or chatting in the playground. At twelve years old I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, a mild form of Autism. A few months later, in the same year of 2006, I was arrested for an offence of having a knife in a public place and put into secure mental health services called ‘Roycroft Clinic’ in Newcastle upon Tyne where the onslaught of awful abuse started.

Many staff members got sacked and the articles about this are still available to read online to this day if you type ‘Roycroft Abuse Scandal’ into Google. I was subjected to sexual abuse, physical abuse and sheer cruelty on a daily basis. I witnessed staff sexually abuse patients right in front of my eyes, hot water being thrown at a fourteen year old girl, people being starved and people being told to ‘just speed it up and kill yourself’. All around me was a feeling of hopelessness, a stomach churning feeling of desperation. I was never safe. Most days I saw people get attacked and people hurt themselves. Most days I heard screaming of unwell children until the early hours of the morning. Too often I saw blood, urine and the tears of unwell children being abused. No smartphones, laptops or modern technology was allowed. Forget going down to the fiery pits of hell with the devil, that place was hell, and I had to live there for five, long, painful years. They denied me of any education as well, even though I was eager to get one. At twelve years old most children are out playing with friends or, these days, on their games consoles. Me? I was locked up in a tiny cell like bedroom dreading the next time I was going to be sexually abused or assaulted and all those years i'm never getting back.

After I left Roycroft Clinic in Newcastle I was sent all around the country like a parcel for a further three years; residing in mental health units in Norwich, York, Market Weighton and Beverley until 2014; the year that I was allowed to return to my hometown of Hull. Sadly, back in my hometown I quickly realized that I was alone and that the so called ‘care and support package’ I was promised to follow me from the institutions into society didn’t actually exist, and only ever existed on paper in meetings to impress the right business people. I needed to grow up and learn how to live in the lonely, dangerous world quickly before I got devoured. My father couldn’t be there all the time because of his own mental health. The reality was that I was on my own. I couldn’t cope. I struggled so much with adjusting to freedom; the ability to do what I want, eat what I want, wear what I want. I struggled with bills and all of the stress of living on your own. I struggled with the fact that I was now technically an adult and for the first time in my life, had a hell of a lot of adult responsibility on my shoulders. Deep down inside I still felt like a scared little girl.

Fast forward to 2016, a particularly bad year for me. My friend took her own life. On top of this, I was living on my own in a tiny flat next to people who used to leave heroin needles in the street, I couldn't get any form of employment or even any help to do this no matter where I turned and I was so lonely. During this time I often felt suicidal and under the instruction of my GP and other people, used to ring the crisis team hoping to get some support. Sadly, half the time I couldn't get through and was simply placed on hold for stupidly long periods of time, ranging from ten minutes to two hours, and on the occasions that I actually could get through, I got through to a tied, fed up sounding person who casually told me to make a cup of tea. I went on to cut my arm and wrist so deeply that they needed multiple stitches and I'm now left with permanent scarring for the rest of my life. I took multiple drug overdoses, one resulting in a four day hospital admission on the resus ward. I ended up going to prison for contacting them, dragged to court and then given various criminal convictions for ringing them when I wasn't in 'genuine enough' need. I guess narrowly missing my artery with a carpet cuter wasn’t serious enough. It seemed as though the Humberside police, CPS and Hull mental health services wanted me to die or got pleasure from watching me suffer. The authorities printed my photo, name, age and street address in various newspapers saying that I’d ‘wasted’ vital services time, which made me feel even more alone. The online articles are still available to read to this day. This is the reason I changed my name to what it is today. After this, I couldn't stay in Hull much longer and I no longer viewed the place as my hometown. I wrote various complaints about how I was treated but never got any responses.

In September 2017 I moved to Bradford for a fresh start, but within three weeks got sexually assaulted by a flatmate. In December 2017 I got offered a council house in Leeds due to all of these circumstances. I took it up and decided to move away for good. Within a few weeks of moving to Leeds my father became extremely ill and then another friend of mine took their own life. Just one traumatic thing after the other. Sadly, just as before, I was punished by the mental health services for asking for help. Due to contacting the Leeds Crisis Team, in January I got arrested and in April 12th was sent to court and charged because the member of staff was claiming that I wasn’t ringing for a ‘genuine reason’ yet again. Yet another criminal conviction just for wanting help that will stay on my record for life, hindering my chances of ever getting employment.

Sadly, due to my criminal record I have not yet been successful in finding work of any kind- even volunteer work because most things need a DBS check that reveals my conviction which I believe is really punitive and unfair as my convictions are related to wanting mental health support. Anything that I am interested in I am not allowed to do. I really wanted to go into law, being someone who helps get off mental health tribunals, but was advised that I wouldn't be able to practice due to my convictions so turned to teaching creative writing. I applied to do teacher training but wasn't even allowed on the course. I then looked at becoming a support worker/carer but was told it would be unlikely I'd ever be successful getting a role like this either by various organisations. The sad thing is, I'm a very academic person. I study daily and have an undying thirst for knowledge that, seemingly, I can never use because I got punished for asking for help by a cruel, punitive system.

Although I am not locked up, I still don’t feel free and doubt I ever will. I have very few friends, have a suicidal father and still struggle managing my finances daily. Horrific things are still constantly happening to me, I keep losing friends and people that I’ve known to suicide because there is hardly any mental health support anymore and if you ask for help your either get blatantly ignored or arrested. The unwell are getting culled out like foxes. Suicidal people are being told to go to AE only to wait for twelve hours to be given a printed out sheet of paper with the same number they rang on. It’s disgusting and needs to change. We all deserve so much better. Since I cannot get a job I make it my job to inspire and help people. Over the past few years various people have reached out to me via social media to tell me that I have inspired them and the feeling I get when I see messages like this is the best feeling in the world. I will campaign for better mental health services for the rest of my life and hope to become a driving force that gets the system to change for the better. What I was put through by services was evil and I don’t want anyone else having to endure that. Also, since I have very little money I cannot go anywhere or pursue any hobbies which means I can’t meet people, so I’m very isolated still and will be until something changes. I spend my days as a recluse. I just exist. I live off Asda smart price food, I rarely can afford new clothes, I can never afford to buy any treats or nice things for myself and often have to sell things just to get by.

This is how the NHS destroyed my childhood but I won’t let my whole life be destroyed. I never got any apologies or any answers and know full damn well that I never will. However, despite all of this I have kept going. I’ll end this article by quickly talking about my first short spell in prison, where I spoke in length with a woman serving a life sentence for murder, she had eight years left of her sentence. She wasn’t shy about revealing that piece of information either, she revealed this casually over a game of cards and coffee as if talking about the weather and, because I was new to mindfulness at the time, I was taken aback with amazement that she didn’t look depressed. Nope. This woman looked really happy. She oozed confidence; she was smiling, joking and maintaining steady eye contact with me. She spoke of marriage, she spoke of going to university, she spoke of getting stupid drunk and not being able to stand up. She was free in her mind and she said something to me that I’ll never forget as it is sums up why I write brilliantly. She said:

''They can put bars on my windows but they can’t put bars on my mind.”
‘They can put bars on my fucking winda’s but they can’t put bars on my motherfuckin mind.’

Was how she, so eloquently exactly put it and it says it all really. You can be hopeful anywhere; in a palace, in a prison. You will see what you want to see, whether you see the negatives or the positives. You can either see the beautiful speckled light rays of the autumnal sun, or you can mourn the dead leaves on the floor. Ultimately, you really are in control of your own happiness. Whether you complain about the past for 3 hours or watch a film with a hot chocolate, time will still pass. You can either live in the past where all your bad memories or mistakes lay, or you can look forward and live for today by doing things that make you happy. Life is shit and I’ve had an awful life, but I urge you to use your time wisely because time is so precious. I use my time by writing, not just for myself but for other people. Since I can’t get a job I make it my job to inspire other people. Writing is my life, it gives me so much hope and it gives me a reason to stay alive. I hope that this article has inspired you and I really do hope that you find your reason to stay alive. Don’t give up.

-Michelle Torez

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