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We’re just left there to rot’ ─ Pam’s story and why she’s campaigning for change

20 June 2024

We’re just left there to rot, really; that’s how I’d class it.”

Pam, who has a learning disability, was admitted to a mental health hospital as a teenager.

I’d lost my brother at a very young age; I just lost the plot. And that’s how I ended up in the secure hospitals, just to get treatment because my mental state wasn’t great.

I was locked in Holloway prison to start with for 6 weeks and then I was sent to a secure unit in Berkshire. I did 2 years there. It was OK, the staff weren’t great, but it was OK, and then they moved me to a mental health hospital in Northamptonshire so further away from my family. I didn’t like it, I hated it.”

Pam has shared her story of being detained in a mental health hospital as part of Learning Disability Awareness Week and to promote our Use Your Power campaign. Photo credit: VoiceAbility/​Neck of the Woods Films

Pam, now 54, describes how she was over-medicated in hospital and the impact of being a long way from her family.

Yeah, they do over-medicate people, which I didn’t like because my medicine, they have to verify it to make sure it’s working properly. I’m now medicated, and it works perfectly well. But in there, they would just give me all sorts, and I looked like a zombie sometimes; it wasn’t nice at all. It made me upset and angry and worried that something was gonna happen while I was in there.

I wanted my family’s support but, because they lived so far away, I couldn’t get it. They didn’t give me a discharge date. They didn’t give me anything on how long I’d be in there or anything like that.

It was in Northamptonshire; my mum and dad lived in Witney (Oxfordshire), so it was quite a way for them to travel. I love my mum and dad. I’ve no longer got my mum around, but my dad is a big part of my life. 

It made me quite upset and very angry, hoping I’d get out eventually, not seeing my parents for quite a while. I wanted to get out of that hospital as soon as I could.

Pam explains how the loss of rights and independence in hospital can make your mental health worse and the benefits of being in the community.

Your rights are taken away from you in hospital. Even the families that fight for their children or their adult children, it’s hard going. I’ve seen some of the families and how hard it is when their children have died in hospital or something’s happened to them.

It wasn’t nice. It wasn’t a nice hospital. I felt betrayed, and I felt disgusted in how the staff were treating me. I wanted to get out, and I just didn’t feel safe. I’d rather have been out in the community where I felt safer.

Being in hospital made my mental health worse. I’ve been out now 30 years, and it’s a lot better. I can get on with my life, have a family, have a dog, be at work; it’s great.

Pam is determined to fight for people with a learning disability and autistic people to get the right support to live in the community and reduce their detention in mental health hospitals.

We’re just left there to rot, really; that’s how I’d class it. They don’t understand you, just ignore you, don’t listen to you. If you want something, they don’t listen; they just assume you’re just playing up or acting up.”

I think they should close the main hospitals and let people live in the community with the right support. Because they’ve just been abused and beaten up, and it’s just not fair on them.

I want to fight it, and we’ve been fighting it for years.

I want to make sure everyone’s got the right to have their own choices, their own places to live, their own support that they want, not the support that they’re given.”

Pam was featured in our Use Your Power campaign video, which is calling on the government to urgently improve support for people with a learning disability and autistic people to live in the community and reduce their hospital detention.

Over 2,000 people with a learning disability and autistic people (of which around 200 are children) are currently detained in mental health hospitals in England. This is leading to lifelong trauma and loss of life.