By Richard Chidwick, posted on 21st November 2013
Bill Oddie has hit out recently at celebrities who use mental illness as a ‘fashion accessory’ (reported in The Telegraph). Oddie, former comedian and presenter of BBC 2’s TV Programme Bird Watch was unceremoniously axed by the BBC from the programme after his mental health deteriorated allegedly to the extent he was upsetting his colleagues and staff at the organisation (Daily Mail). What followed from his axing was a spell in a psychiatric hospital for around a year. Oddie has stated that this year was the worst time in his life.
Oddie’s criticism of celebrities such as Ruby Wax, whom he claims has used her own mental health as a means of “making a career out of it”, has not rested well with other celebrities including Wax, who responded to Oddie’s comment backing up her reasons for publishing a book about her own mental health.
Oddie was diagnosed with severe debilitating depression, and then found to be suffering with bipolar. To reiterate the point that Bill made about celebrities using mental illness as a ‘buzz word,’ or a fashion accessory, the hard hitting portrayal of people with mental illness who live in the community shown in Bedlam on Channel Four last Thursday, shows how unfashionable and desperate people can be who are suffering in the community.
The third episode of Bedlam focuses on people in the community, those outside the walls of psychiatric hospitals or wards. The first person we meet is Tamara who has persistent delusions about bed bugs. She has visions that are totally unreal, about bed bugs crawling on every crack and crevice on her sofa, even on her and ‘behind her eyes’, she says. Tamara, like the other people we meet in episode has psychotic delusions, which means a person can lose contact with reality, hear voices or experience paranoia.
Having been introduced to Tamara, we see her inspecting her sofa for bed bugs. We hear from her about the time she stayed up all night, outside her flat listening to music, causing a disturbance for her neighbours. We discover that her neighbours had accessed the CCTV footage of her mid night escapades and complained about her behaviour. We also learn Tamara had been sectioned under the mental health act previously, and she is now every day ‘walking a tightrope,’ between the community and institution.
Tarmara is unlucky with the state of mind she is in, but she is lucky to be allowed to roam free in the community. Twenty years ago Tamara would have almost certainly been confined for her own safety in a psychiatric hospital. She is also very fortunate that the community care team, a figment of the Care in The Community scheme, are right on her case. We meet Jim Thurkle, who travels round the local area checking patients like Tamara. Jim describes his role as almost behaving like a ‘detective, trying to find out if someone’s alive or not.”
When dealing with people who can be so emotionally unstable, there is a chance they could get themselves into grave danger through their lack of concern for their own wellbeing. Jim explains how Tamara has refused to take her medication for over four months, and she has a chronic addiction to the class A drug speed, and her excessive usage of the drug trigger her delusions.
Every case with mental health is different, and many people who experience mental illness have not taken any legal or illegal substances. However, there is a common factor associated with our mental health, that drugs legal or illegal can have a negative impact on our mind. And even like Ray Bermondsey, the second person we meet in this episode, who drinks excessively, we are talking half a litre of Vodka on a steady night on top of a crippling anxiety disorder, mixed with schizophrenia.
We see how damaging any drug use can be on the psyche. Mental illness and drug use and his case alcohol abuse rarely ends in a good situation, and this is so apparent with Ray’s case. Ray regularly drinks between 6 or 9 pints a day, Jim is worried because Ray
‘does not know his mind and is drinking to medicate himself.”
Rosemary is the third person we meet in this episode. When the community mental health team arrive, we discover she is detained under Section 3 of the Mental Health Act. Section 3 of the Mental Health Act: “Allows people to be admitted and detained for treatment for up to six months. Two doctors have to agree someone should be detained for treatment in the interests of their health or safety, or for the protection of others. One of them must be a Section.”
Being sectioned “means being admitted to hospital whether or not you agree to it. The legal authority for your admission to hospital comes from the Mental Health Act rather than from your consent. This is usually because you are unable or unwilling to consent.”
So the mental health act is still enforced when required, but people are better kept in the community and Jim certainly gives off an air of professionalism, care and sensitivity towards his patients.
To our relief we discover at the end of the programme how Tamara, Ray and Rosemary are allowed to remain in the community. Tamara has not been sectioned again, she is no longer preventing the psychiatric team to enter her house, or is not disappearing following the news the community care team will visit her. Ray’s mental health has improved and he is no longer drinking or disappearing from his flat.
Rosemary has stepped aside from the shadow of her psychosis, and has transformed from her terrible state in which we first viewed her, to herself; a caring and very welcoming person who collects an array of trinkets and memorabilia associated with the Royal Family. Rosemary has her eccentricities, like all the patients we meet in this episode, but these are more her recovered and likeable personality.
Again the SLaM team have presented a thought provoking and harrowing at times episode, but the it depicts how far treatment of the mentally ill has come. People can be cared for in their homes, and ultimately stand a better chance of recovery if they are
allowed to remain themselves in the community. Community living reduces the ‘stigma’ associated with mental illness.
A 2004 study into schizophrenia found that people with severe mental illness living in apartments or community housing are more accepted, less lonely, and have a greater quality of life (as compared to those in specialized treatment facilities). Granted this episode does not focus solely on schizophrenia, it is surely fair to say that this finding could be applied to people with mental illness living in the community in general. It certainly seems to have been the case in this excellent and thought provoking episode.