'WE MUST LOOK AFTER THE MENTALLY ILL'

By Julian Lewis

Southern Daily Echo – 30 December 2009

Recently I spent an hour at Forest Court, on the Tatchbury Estate, visiting Joyce who is 77 and bedridden. This was not to discuss her situation – she remains radiantly cheerful in her excellent nursing home – but that of her son Simon. Until recently, he was on Ellingham Ward at nearby Woodhaven, the state-of-the-art mental hospital opened just five years ago.

Severe mental illness, we agreed, is often more dreadful than physical ailments: a truly terrifying ordeal. Thus, though Joyce cannot move very much, her brain is pin-sharp and her spirit undaunted. As a midwife, she brought many babies into the world and, as a mother, she practised what she preached and had seven of her own.

Simon, now in his 40s, has been ill with bipolar disorder (manic depression) for over 20 years. Sometimes he has managed out in society, but often this proves impossible. Under Sections of the Mental Health Act he has spent time on both the acute Winsor Ward and, when really disturbed, on Ellingham – the Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit adjacent to the Acute Ward.

NHS bureaucrats have now closed it 'temporarily', but we shall lose it forever unless the community stands up and fights. We need a serious campaign to reopen this life-saving facility.

The Winsor and Ellingham Wards perfectly complement and reinforce one another. Together they ensure that Woodhaven forms a place of refuge and recovery for those whose lives take a catastrophic turn for the worse.

Across our region, in-patient beds are at a premium and Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit beds lack spare capacity. Outreach teams do their best to support people at home, but cannot be present for more than 30 minutes daily. When Simon was sent home for lack of a bed in September, he caused a road accident within a couple of hours.

The sign of a civilised society is said to be the way it cares for its most vulnerable.  We are doing a good job looking after Joyce; until recently, we were looking after Simon quite well too. Yet, without Ellingham Ward, people like him will be sent further away from their families and may even fall through the resultant gaps in the system.

We must not let this happen – mental illness can happen to anyone.