‘How my life turned around with new treatment’


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Patients at Fulbourn Hospital surrounded by the staff who have helped them

“As a child I was restrained, stripped and left in a room for three days,” says Clarissa, 24.

Grace, 25, says: “I was very suicidal, I didn’t see any point in living.”

Both Clarissa and Grace have borderline personality disorder and they have spent much of the last decade in and out of mental health hospitals.

They are now on one of the first mental health wards to abandon practices such as restraint, seclusion and rapid tranquilisation of patients, which are used to stop those with mental illnesses from harming themselves.

They are among 12 women being treated on Springbank Ward at Fulbourn Hospital near Cambridge, using a technique called dialectical behaviour therapy.

Both young women are now well enough to take their first holiday in almost 10 years.

Clarissa told BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme: “I’ve never felt this well, either as an adult or as a child.

“I barely left my bed for a year before coming here.

“Now I am up every day, we go out walking, to the shops, swimming three or four times a week. It’s just a completely different life.”

‘Held face down in a bean bag’

Clarissa says restrictive practices, which she used to experience regularly at other hospitals, “take away everything you’ve got”.

“I was restrained, stripped, put in anti-ligature clothing against my will and left in a room with two people watching me for about three days.

“In some places it’s scary because it is used as a first resort.”

Fellow patient Marianna, 21, says she was sectioned under the Mental Health Act for the best part of five years.

“Once I was carried by my arms and legs to a de-escalation room where I was restrained for four hours, face down into a bean bag.

“I had staff laying on top of me, I was rushed into hospital, my body just shut down from panic,” she says.

‘Intense emotions’

Instead of restraint and seclusion, the staff on Springbank ward – who patients describe as ‘amazing’ – use different techniques to manage patients’ distress, including mindfulness and a type of talking therapy.

It teaches patients different ways of dealing with distressing emotions, which have previously resulted in self-harm or suicide attempts.

Grace says: “There is a lot of stigma around personality disorders.


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Fulbourn hospital staff and patients chat about the next steps in treatment

“For me it brings on intense emotions that are hard to control, which might provoke feelings that you might want to self-harm.”

She added that it might also provoke suicidal feelings, and other mental health problems like depression, anxiety disorders and eating disorders.

Dramatic results

The consultant in charge, Dr Jorge Zimbron, and his team of specialists carried out research for the three years before restrictive practices were eradicated, and the three years since, when dialectical behaviour therapy was used.

“It breaks down how to do certain things that people take for granted, which involve interpersonal relations, emotional regulation and distress tolerance. We can all improve our skills on each of those areas, whether suffering from a mental health problem or not,” he says.

Results were dramatic, with a drop from 56 restraints a year to just six, and the virtual eradication of rapid tranquilisation, down to just one in the past 3.5 years.

The methods are now being used by the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP), for what it describes as one of the largest ‘quality improvement programmes’ in mental health anywhere in the world.

Dr Amar Shah, from the RCP, says they were inundated with requests to take part: “These wards have the highest use of restrictive practice. Each of those wards are getting a lot of support to understand the factors leading to the use of restriction and to come up with their own ideas about what may make a difference, and to test them out.

“Our goal is, over the next 15 months, to reduce the use of restrictive practice by a third,” he said.

Last December, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, asked the Care Quality Commission to carry out a review of the use of restrictive practices against people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism.

The first report will be published in May 2019.

Hear more on Radio 4’s You and Yours programme.

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