Why my kids have visited a secure mental health facility

Today is World Mental Health Day and it’s prompted me to write this post about my families experience with mental illness. This is not an easy post to write as it is very personal. I’m a bit nervous to push the publish button. But I think it is important that we are more open about mental health and maybe talking about what it means to me will help in a tiny way.


My sister Katharine is three years older than me. She is sensitive, quiet and much taller than me. She has a very creative streak and loves patterned socks and nail varnish. For a long time she has struggled with mental health problems. Over the years things have got progressively worse to the point that she could no longer work. She moved back into my parents house a long time ago.

We knew that things were very wrong. We didn’t know which way to turn and my sister was very suspicious and reluctant to seek medical help. The GPs service was very basic. My sister was prescribed anti depressants but we had no real insight into what was really wrong and the best way forward.

We got to a really scary place. Scary for Katharine and for us. My sister was seeing things, talking about things that didn’t make sense. On some days she was very withdrawn on other very erratic and angry. She was living in a strange and dark world that we couldn’t understand or access. She was feeling very paranoid and was often unclear with the basics of what day it was and what was going on. We muddled through trying to help but basically clueless what to do.

Things came to a head in December 2013. My sister came out in a angry red rash and was having difficulty breathing. This physical problem was a reason to get her into hospital but more importantly it was a route into getting the serious specialist attention needed for her mental health. She was admitted to a secure mental health facility.

I’m a bit ashamed to say I didn’t tell my friends or colleagues what was going on. A couple of people knew that my sister was in hospital but not much more than that. I didn’t really know how to explain things to them, partly because I didn’t understand them myself and partly because I was worried about their reaction and that they would judge my sister and my family. I realise now that this is ridiculous and this is exactly how the stigma around mental health is perpetuated.

I was really nervous the first time I went to see Katharine. I didn’t know what to expect about the place where she was being treated and what state of mind she would be in. Katharine was in reasonable spirit but a bit jumbled. I showed her pictures on my phone of my three children and gave her lip balm. We chatted a little bit about what she had done that day. I got a bit of a glimpse of my sister coming back into view. The next time I visited was a really bad day. Katharine was very restless and jittery and erratic, she left the room a couple of times. The staff told us she was not sleeping.

My mum and dad were so amazing. They were at the hospital every day, met consultants and held us all together.

On December 30th we got a solid diagnosis. It was serious. I’m not going to go into detail here, it’s not my medical information to share. What I can say is that we were reeling trying to get our heads around things. The Mind charity website was a very good source of information it filled in some of the blanks that we had been left with after the consultant met with my parents. We could slowly read through things. There were many sentences that rang true and in a way explained what Katherine had been going through.

I felt it was really important to explain to my daughter who was six at the time in the best way I could that auntie Katharine was ill and a little bit about her condition. If we are ever going to break down the stigma of mental health then this is one of the key things we need to crack. That today’s children don’t hid mental health problems, are not scared or confused like we were. To this end I took all of my kids to see my sister in hospital. My boys were very young at the time (noisy two year olds) and I can understand that they are unsettling at the best of times. My daughter sat with Katharine and showed her her Rapunzel doll and some other things she’d got for Christmas.

It’s been a long process. Gradually my sister was allowed to take some supervised trips out. Then have some overnight stays back at home and eventually she was discharged. She takes some fairly full on medication and will have to for life. There have been a few set backs since but she has a support system in place now of people who understand and know what may and may not help.

I feel like to a large extent I have my sister back. We now understand more about what Katherine needs – a clear routine. She doesn’t cope well with change or the unexpected. She is still not able to work. My mum, dad and sister come to stay with us for one day every week and my sister has found her groove as auntie to my kids. Some days are better than others. There are a lot of days where you would have no idea that there are any issues and a few bad days as well, but these seem to be fewer now.

This experience has taught me a few things. Not talking about mental health is bad for everyone involved, people who have mental health issues and the people around them. This silence delays getting help, it adds confusion and fear when why you need is information and support. I am a bit wary of how well our health system treats people experiencing mental health difficulties. I think we have seen both ends of the spectrum very good specialist help and not very effective GP care.

Statistics suggest that one in four of us will need help with mental health issues at some point in our lives. Let’s aim for a day where mental health is talked about in the same way as physical health, openly, honestly and not in hushed tones.

26 thoughts on “Why my kids have visited a secure mental health facility

  1. Thanks for sharing this, it must have been a difficult post to write. You’re right that we need to be open and speak about mental health to reduce the stigma. Sorry to hear you’ve been through such a difficult time and I’m glad she’s doing a bit better now xx
    Helen | Wonderfully Average recently posted…Are you one of the 4%?My Profile

    1. Thank you Helen. This is definitely the most personal post I’ve ever put on my blog but it felt like the right thing to do. It was a scary time but has had a good outcome for my sister and my family. x

  2. I love your honesty in this post and yes I can see why it would have been a hard one to click the publish button – well done you. Raising awareness of mental health is so important and getting rid of any stigmas. I think it’s better than it was, but there is still a way to go. I have mental health issues within my own family and I know how hard it is. I hope that your sister continues to enjoy life as much as she can and again I applaud you for being open and honest with your children.
    Sending hugs your way.
    Sammy xxx
    Sammy at Seize each day recently posted…A daycation to Sandbanks in PooleMy Profile

    1. Thank you. I’d been wondering if I should write this for a little while and held off. When I saw yesterday morning that it was world mental health I went for it and now feel that it was the right thing to do (if a bit nerve wracking).

    1. Thank you for your supportive, I was a bit nervous about posting this but people have been very supportive. I think anything we can do to make it more normal to talk about mental health the better.

  3. This must have been a hard post for you to write. My mummy’s sister was sectioned under the mental health act and it was hard for us to come to terms with. Thank you for sharing your story and raising awareness. It’s more common than people realise. Popping over from FB Love2Blog x
    Baby Isabella recently posted…Silent Sunday 11.10.15My Profile

    1. Thank you for reading this post and commenting. Hope your auntie got the treatment that she needed. It was a really scary time but it had a positive outcome. X

  4. Thank you for sharing, we too have mental health in our family and my cousin was sectioned, so scary and heartbreaking. You are so brave to share and you should never be ashamed to share your experiences.
    stacey recently posted…Kids Fashion OOTD #19My Profile

    1. Thank you for your comment. I hope your cousin got the help he/she needed. I think the more we talk about mental health issues the better.

  5. This really strikes a chord as my brother suffered in his twenties with mental health problems, as did my ex boyfriend, and one of my best friends. As you say, it’s everywhere so we should all be aware and accepting of the conditions and there should be better support for sufferers and their families. It’s hard watching a loved one fall apart, and feeling so helpless xxx

    1. Thank you for reading this post and for your comment. I agree it is really hard for everyone involved. The person who is suffering and the people who are trying to do their best for them. It would be great to get to a point where it is very clear what help is available and it is clear how to access it. I wrestle with whether we should have done something differently or got serious help sooner but we really struggled to know what to do for the best.

  6. Awww you have been through a lot, glad to know shes doing a bit better! and i totally agree. it needs to be treated just like physical illness. thank you very much for sharing. big hugs xxx

    1. Thank you. I’m glad a took the plunge and posted this. It feels like a small step in the right direction towards changing how mental health is perceived.

    1. Thank you for stopping by and for your supportive comment. I hope this is a tiny step towards talking about mental health and mental illness.

    1. Thank you! I totally agree, hopefully we can get to a place where we don’t have to think twice about being open about mental health issues and illness.

  7. Wow what a truly honest post. It’s something we shouldn’t be afraid of discussing but unfortunately so many are. Well done to you x

    1. Thank you! I think the more we keep talking about mental health the better even if we don’t always know what is the right thing to say.

  8. This is a very honest post and it must have been difficult to write. I totally agree with you that there shouldn’t be a stigma attached to mental health. The more people who, like you, talk about it openly and honestly the better 🙂 #justanotherlinky
    Random Musings recently posted…Klout: What’s It All About?My Profile

    1. Thank you. I can understand that it is hard to talk about as it is maybe not as easy to understand as something physical but the more open we are the better.

  9. I think it’s a great post and obviously hard to write. My family are a bit of a mental health car crash at the moment, but it’s easier for me to say that – people expect it to be the case for us because we lost one of our children. Most people are not able to just explain how they feel without worrying how it’ll be received. I’m glad your sister is getting the help she needs and is able to be an excellent aunt to your children – to allow that you had to take the time and compassion to understand her, you are obviously an excellent sister x

    1. Thank you for reading this post and commenting. I’m so sorry to hear that you lost a child, I just can’t imagine what you have gone through. I was really nervous about how people might react to this post. It has led to so many conversations (online and in real life) about people’s experience of mental health problem which feels quite positive. I’m not sure my sister would describe me as excellent, we are back to fighting over the remote like when we were kids. x

  10. I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for sharing this. I am glad that your sister for the help and diagnosis she needed. My daughter is currently in a psychiatric unit and it’s so hard but at the time, it was the right place for her. The adolescent units are more of a holding pen for people who are suicidal but they do care for them and at least a psychiatrist and team of people finally take them seriously. Our mental health care is in a shocking state at the moment but it’s good to see more people talking about it, not least the young royals. Time to change.

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