I am 18, diagnosed with emotionally unstable personality disorder, among other illnesses, and am currently sitting in the only type of adult psychiatric hospital that there is in Northern Ireland: acute (i.e. short stay). I've been here for 9 months. I'm currently on a waiting list for long term treatment in England because the lack of funding for mental health services over here has meant that I have to travel to a different country to be treated.
Northern Ireland has been shown to have 20-25% higher mental health issues than England, with suicide rates also being higher. Yet it seems that NI only spends 8% of the health budget on mental health, in comparison to England which spends 13%.
From personal experience, I can say that the funding levels for mental health here are awful. I don't need any statistics to tell me that. I went straight from a CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) hospital into an adult hospital, was thrown from the safety of childhood into adulthood, where I would be spending my days on the ward with people with dementia, severe eating disorders and people both verbally and physically violent. This is not the type of environment that any 18-year-old should have to endure, but I've had to endure it. Simply put, this is because there is nowhere on this side of the water that I can go to for treatment.
If you were to walk into the ward I'm currently sitting in, you would find that everyone would be lying in their bed sleeping, or trying to sleep, unless they were fortunate enough to have a pass off the ward. Where is the therapeutic intervention? Especially for someone like me, diagnosed with a personality disorder. I have witnessed other patients with personality disorders yo-yo in and out of hospital because they are not receiving the help that they desperately need. Things like occupational therapy groups, and individual therapy sessions are run by people trying to cover the entire spectrum of adult mental health, not by people who specialise in the individual needs of the patient.
But what about this new hospital being built that's been bragged about all over the news? Surely this will mean more funding and better input from professionals? Well this new hospital promises that there will be 80 beds, 4 fewer than what there already is. 4 fewer beds. 4 more patients needing inpatient care but being denied it because of high demand. From my own experience, any time someone is discharged, their bed is taken within a matter of hours. It is a disgrace that there are so few beds, and that this new hospital presents itself to be better than the current system.
You may be wondering what my day to day life looks like, but there really is nothing interesting to know. There is no routine, no therapy offered, individual or group, there is nothing in place to meet my needs. And the same goes for the majority of the patients here. It is not the fault of anyone that works here, it's due to, you've guessed it, lack of funding.
45,000 children in Northern Ireland have problems with their mental health, and for adults it's a case of 1 in 5. In 2015, 318 suicides took place in NI. How many more statistics does the government need before they finally recognise that we need to invest more funding in mental health? How many more deaths and almost deaths and trips to A&E and yo-yo inpatient admissions do there need to be before it is blatantly obvious that we need more specialist treatment options. Especially for those aged between 18 and 25 who need a transition period set in place so that they don't face the shock that I faced once I turned 18?
Nurses here are being paid as little as 22 thousand pounds a year for saving lives (they've saved mine more times than I can count). 22 thousand pounds for long hours, sometimes without breaks, working on Christmas and other holidays... while all the politicians at Stormont are getting paid their full wage, despite being out of office for nearly 12 months and despite not dealing with the pressing matter of the disgrace that is our mental health system.
So what lies ahead for me? Now I just spend days in my hospital bed waiting to be transferred to a long term treatment ward for personality disorders. I was first admitted to a CAMHS unit in November 2016 before I was transferred and I have spent all this time in a broken system. I should have received the proper help a long time ago, but at least I know that I'm being given the correct treatment soon. I just pray that nobody has to go through the mental health system the way that I did.
Lauren McDowell is 18 years old and from Dundonald. Lauren is currently inpatient at a hospital in Belfast with plans to transfer to a specialist unit in London for personality disorders . Her interests include playing the piano, drawing and writing, and her dream is to one day publish a book on her experiences in hospital.
You can follow Lauren's journey on Instagram @journey.to.lauren