I first became aware of John’s situation early in 2009 when Grainne set up the Incarceration Of John Facebook site. I sent a message of support to Grainne and congratulated her on her efforts to draw attention to her partner’s plight. Grainne acknowledged my message straight away and we started to communicate on a regular basis.
I was working as a peer advocate in the Midwest at the time and was also heavily involved in Hearing Voices Ireland (HVI) which I set up in 2006, Campaign Against Suicide (CAS) based in Limerick and Renew which I had played a role in setting up.
I am a service user myself as is my partner Michelle. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1996 and Michelle has similar mental health issues so as well as working in mental health and being a service user I was also a carer. I could relate to Grainne’s situation very strongly. I had spent the last six years as a peer advocate listening to hundreds of people tell me their story of mental health difficulties and their struggle with the mental health system and life in general. I had my own ongoing battle with my illness to deal with and living with a partner with similar difficulties was not always easy.
As time went on I became friends with Grainne and both Michelle and I have visited Grainne, Josh and Hazel a good number of times in the last year. The first time I met Josh and Hazel I liked them straight away. I like kids anyway but even though the house is a happy home I quickly felt the gap in the house without John.
Every child deserves to have both parents around if possible and Josh obviously missed his father. John rings the house a lot and talks to Josh on the phone and Grainne often brings Josh up to Cork (a long journey) to visit his dad but its not the same as having John at home. The longer John is kept away from his home the longer Josh is without a father.
The first time I met John I got on with him straight away. Despite the fact that there is nearly fifteen years between us we have a lot in common. He is a free spirit, he likes music, he has had his adventures and survived. I explained as best I could about who I was and how I came to visit him in Carraig mor. I had spoken to him on the phone but at that stage he was heavily medicated and living in an enclosed space, locked away from reality I was not sure how ‘with it’ he was. I was pleasantly surprised to see that he was as ‘with it’ as most people despite his unhealthy incarceration.
Carraig mor is more like a prison than a hospital. In fact it’s worse in some ways. In a prison there is an exercise yard. In Carraig mor John does not get fresh air and exercise like every person needs. Also the tiny visiting room has both doors to inside the hospital and out locked during visits, has to be shared with other visitors, and has no access to the outdoors for smoking or fresh air. I am sure the nursing staff, who are pleasant, do the best they can under the circumstances but this facility is not properly designed for what it is being used for.
These factors combined with an over reliance on psychiatric drugs in the mental health system and johns heavy smoking habit and addiction to fizzy drinks all add up to a very unhealthy regime. John seems to be aware of the limits of what is available here but the sad thing is he does not seem to be in a position to argue against this forced incarceration. Grainne has told me of his rebellious nature and how it got him into trouble in Carraig mor. I know from experience that they don’t like any form of dissent in these places and rebellion of any kind is greeted with heavy handed enforcement which can mean extra ‘meds’ and loss of privileges. Don’t forget we are talking about a hospital here.
I believe what john needs most of all is frequent access, at least initially, to the outdoors and his family home. His health is suffering enormously under the current regime. In four years he has gone from relative health to being very unhealthy. Surely this is a sign that something is wrong. I maintain my mental health by maintaining my health in general – it should be the same for John and all ‘mental health’ patients. Simply dosing up a human being with drugs is not the answer. A person needs to work on a broad spectrum of fronts to maintain health in mind, body and soul.
Another thing John needs is rehabilitation over a long period of time. John need to be reintroduced to the outside world as a matter of urgency. In particular he needs to spend more time, alone, with his partner Grainne and son Josh. Instead of a long term plan for this Carrickmore seem to have thrown away the key and said there is no more we can do. This is just a cop out. A lot of what could be done would not cost anything extra. In fact it would even save money in the long run. So to say that they cannot afford it is not good enough. The fact of the matter is John’s treatment and long term incarceration shows an underlying arrogant and negative attitude towards such patients and a lack of commitment to effective long term care.
Michelle and I will continue to support Grainne, John, Josh and Hazel in any way we can. I wish John in particular luck on his journey and call on the people who are in control of Carraig mor to pull their socks up and start a process that will bring John home for once and for all.
Apple, fennel, dandelion salad #foodie friday
4 hours ago