Andrews writes about the positive role of mental health staff in helping her
survive mental illness.
my experience psychiatric social workers play a number of valid roles –
offering support, making sure people receive help in the home, helping with
shopping and medication, bringing in extra help if needed and being part of a
But during years of mental illness I have
always relied on my community psychiatric nurse, whose role to some extent
overlaps. In my teens I battled anorexia and bulimia.
My problems continued when Iwent to Liverpool
University and I developed an exercise addiction, swimming for an hour daily.
Exercise was one thing, but I was too depressed to open a book and I dropped
out after my first year.
After seeing my first psychiatrist I escaped
being sectioned as my weight began to stabilise at a higher level. Strangely
enough, Geoffrey Cannon’s book Dieting Makes You Fat triggered a complete
rejection of starvation. The tendency towards bulimia and an excess of exercise
I was cured. I qualified as a journalist
after working as a cub reporter on a city paper. Now I was eight and a half
Then pickiness with food came back with the
stress and commuting, as did physical exhaustion. Later during some freelance
work I began to feel strangely elated, staying up all night court reporting
after falling in love with a criminal on trial. I thought the Sunday Times was
writing about me and smashed up the house.
I was sectioned after a crash team descended,
including a psychiatric social worker, a doctor, CPN and a psychiatrist. I
remember they were worried about how my parents would react, including my late
father who had heart disease. I was diagnosed with manic depression. I went
home and got on with my life, worried about the stigma of being labelled.
Worried about who visited my home in case of curtain-twitching neighbours.
Worried about shopkeepers, bartenders, librarians. Who knows who thought Iwas
Years later I had my second encounter with a
psychiatric social worker who told me I was "too high," resulting in
me being sectioned and hospitalised for five weeks. A car crash followed by a
driving ban was the catalyst for me taking lithium and chlorpromazine
regularly, even though my weight shot up to a size 16, then to a size 18.
patients like me are strong and positive but psychiatric social workers can be
invaluable. I know schizophrenics who have had help filling in forms, such as
for disability living allowance and support at work in factories, and for
swimming. I know manic depressives who have been saved from hospital by a
psychiatric social worker who spotted when they were going high or low and
medication was changed. I know someone else abandoned by his family and rescued
from homelessness on the streets of London who cannot manage without his social
Then there’s my mum. I live with her, though
I’m 35. She’s a strong support.
Louise Andrews is a mental health service user. She has
used a pseudonym in writing this article.