Real life: Audrey’s story

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Audrey* was just 16 when she was admitted to an adolescent mental health inpatient unit in Essex. Leading up to her admission she’d been in hospital for 7 weeks with her pain syndrome and her mother had walked out, leaving her with just a bag of clothes. It became clear to the hospital that her mental health wasn’t good. Whilst she was waiting for a psychiatric assessment, Audrey made an attempt on her life – this led to her being put on suicide watch and then her eventual admission to a mental health unit for young people.

Audrey remembers what it was like when she first arrived at the unit: “It was certainly a bit of a scary environment to start with because at that point I was completely wheelchair bound. I wasn’t able to deal with confrontation. I was one of the quiet ones, I didn’t vocalise what I felt at all. I just didn’t know how to interact with other people very well.”

Audrey ended up being an inpatient at the unit for 9 months after originally being told she would be discharged after 3 months. Because of delays in social care in getting Audrey a suitable placement to live, her discharge date kept getting put further and further back.
She ended up celebrating her seventeenth birthday on the unit. She recalls: “It was a weird feeling and kind of sad because in a lot of ways it was the best birthday I’d ever had, even though I saw no one and had to do what I was told, when I was told, because it wasn’t with my parents. It made me realise that what had been going on with them wasn’t ok.”

Audrey first met Marion and Lisa from Mid and North Essex Mind’s Advocacy team on their weekly drop-in at the unit.
Marion remembers: “The first contact we had, Audrey just looked so alone. So we hauled her over and introduced ourselves and really just built our relationship with her from there. We also kept on top of social services for her where she was being let down with meetings and support was being inconsistent. Because Audrey had physical health needs as well as mental health needs she was falling between the gaps when it came to finding her a placement.”

Marion and Lisa started supporting Audrey at Care Programme Approach and Looked After Child meetings. In UK law children in care are referred to as ‘looked after children’. A child is ‘looked after’ if they are in the care of the local authority for more than 24 hours. Because Audrey was estranged from her parents, she qualified as being a looked after child which should’ve meant access to a placement. Unfortunately, red tape meant that Audrey, Marion and Lisa had a lot of work to do to get this recognised.

It got to the point where Audrey needed a solicitor to help support her with her housing issues in order to trigger social services to move on their legal obligations. Marion and Lisa helped this happen.

Marion and Lisa’s intervention made a big difference to Audrey, she remembers: “I used to sit in the corner by myself all day. So to actually do meetings and talk to people I didn’t know, it was really hard. Marion and Lisa were familiar faces that I didn’t associate with social care or the unit. I felt like they were on my side and weren’t just trying to do what’s best for the budget, they were trying to do what’s best for me. It made a huge difference because I wasn’t telling anyone what I wanted and it was good to talk through things when I felt stupid talking to other people. They massively gave me a voice.”

After a lot of meetings, and pressure of legal actions from Audrey’s solicitor, she was finally recognised as a Looked After Child which meant the wheels could start moving for her to be found a placement.

Audrey was moved temporarily into something called semi-independent living, accommodation with a member of staff also living in. Though a temporary placement, she has still found herself there over a year later and about to turn 19. She hopes soon to be out in an adult placement somewhere on her own so she can build her life with support from community mental health services.

Of her last year, Audrey said: “I’m not going to lie it has been hard and terrifying at the same time. I’ve had to get used to being out of hospital. I had to quite quickly get the point where I was able to do household duties and chores which are hard for me physically.”
Audrey has however come far since being discharged from the unit. Since last year she has been studying a science diploma at an Essex college. If that wasn’t enough, she’s also become involved with a local art gallery and has become the first young person the gallery has ever had as a trustee. It’s been responsible for a big increase in Audrey’s confidence, seeing her often travelling to conferences and speaking on behalf of the gallery as part of panels.

Life remains challenging for Audrey: “I do have a voice and a passion now when I didn’t before but it doesn’t mean I’m feeling 100%. Other people tell me I’ve come far but I don’t really see that I’ve come any further. At the end of the day emotionally I’m still the same, I struggle to see the difference; once I get the support I need from adult mental health services I can work on that. But Marion and Lisa have made me feel like a person, not a number. I’m starting to realise it is my life and my choice. When I didn’t feel like I was worth anything when I was younger, no one told me differently and Marion and Lisa have.”

Audrey finishes by talking about the difference Marion and Lisa have made to her life: “The only people that have been by me from start to finish have been them, no matter what. It doesn’t matter what I’ve done or what I say, they never get angry at me, they never look at me any differently. They stepped in and were what my parents weren’t. To be honest, without them I don’t know where I’d be right now, I’d probably have ended up in a mental health unit until I was 18 and then been sectioned because I was doing stupid stuff all the time. I wouldn’t have started to do all the things I’m doing now with the gallery without them.”

* name has been changed