“I felt like I was a plague that only caused harm. Something in my brain kind of snapped and I became acutely suicidal.”
Connie Keane is a 24-year-old musician who spent six weeks in St Patrick’s Mental Health Services in Dublin last October.
A traumatic personal incident last year eventually caused her to suffer a mental breakdown.
Her experience inside the hospital was profoundly positive, she says. It was a place that healed her, by allowing her the space to be creative. She wrote and recorded her new single “H-Always” in the music room of St Patrick’s.
“I didn’t really know what to expect before going in other than what they tell you in the movies, which is that it’s going to be an asylum and they don’t let you out to see light of day.”
“It’s absolutely terrifying when you’re first going in, you don’t know the nursing staff and the hospital feels strange, but as you get settled in and you get to know the people around you, you start to be able to support each other.”
But she added: “I felt really safe there. I thought the nursing staff were really good. You might be sitting opposite someone at breakfast who might be at psychosis state, but there’s such a level of compassion between the service users – and you just feel for them, and the nursing staff are great – that I felt very safe there.”
“I found that being there, subconsciously, had more of a positive impact on me than I knew it was having.”
Connie, who will perform at the Body and Soul festival next month, is keen to raise awareness about mental health services, to encourage people who are in crisis to seek help.
She first experienced anxiety herself when she was 16, and has used cognitive behavioural analysis and regular psychotherapy sessions to manage it through the years.
But last year, when Connie became unwell, she and her family felt deeply that she needed time in hospital to recover.
“I was very emotionally dysregulated, very overwhelmed with the need to end my own life. It was the constant thought in my head, I saw it as the only good idea.”
“It’s terrifying when you’ve never had those thoughts before… I just basically thought I was this plague that only caused harm; I felt I was dirty; I was crying for two thirds of each day; I was so nauseous all the time so I barely ate and I lost so much weight at home.”
“I was in that state about a month before I was able to go into hospital.”
Connie presented to A&E three times, but it was a GPs urgent referral letter that eventually got her a place in St Patrick’s.
By that point, she was under 24-hour supervision in her family home for fear that she might take her own life.
“When you’re in a place mentally when it’s not safe mentally for you to be at home, and you do need to do something like that, it’s a shame that the hospital is not as easily accessed as it should be.”
“I went to A&E three times and they wouldn’t admit me. I think they thought I would be better at home. They thought a day programme would be better. But I was much too unwell.”
A spokesperson for the HSE says that while it does not comment on individual cases, “in general, those who present to Emergency Department in emotional crises are seen by a mental health assessment team who complete a bio psychosocial assessment and formulate a management plan.”
“There is usually no waiting list when hospitalisation is recommended by the treating clinical team,” the HSE spokesperson added.
When Connie finally got a place in St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, the hospital’s creative facilities like the arts and crafts room and kitchen were like a warm blanket.
“I was eventually admitted which was a huge relief. At that stage I was very aware of the toll it takes on the people around you, how much effort and care is being put into you. You’re frustrated with yourself because you can’t control how you’re feeling, and you can totally see how they’re hurting. Which then adds to feelings of self-loathing as well.”
“I am very open talking about it now because I think it’s very important to somewhat normalise this kind of thing because you never know how you’re going to react in your life; you mentally completely spiral. I was unrecognisable to myself while I was in that state, and I had never seen myself getting into that state.”
Sherrie Buckley, Occupational Therapy Manager at St Patrick’s Mental Health Services told Independent.ie that the hospital’s creative rooms allow for patients to take part in “meaningful activities” which can help their recovery.
“At St Patrick’s Mental Health Services, we recognise the benefits that engaging and re-engaging in meaningful activities can have for service users and the contribution they can have towards an individual’s recovery. Some of the facilities available to service users in St Patrick’s Mental Health Services include the lounge music room, the service user garden with a pet area, the pottery room, the craft room, the art room and the computer room.”
“The therapeutic value of music as a means to calm, soothe, stimulate and motivate service users, in both community and inpatient mental health settings, is widely recognised and is well documented throughout research.”
Connie added: “The music room was really, really vital for me in those first few steps of my recovery.”
“There was an arts and crafts room, a pottery room, a kitchen where we did baking once a week which was so therapeutic. While you’re there you’re still incredibly upset, but I loved the baking. You’re also able to bring your suggestions about what you want to bake every week. Just a few days ago I baked the chocolate brownies that I learned to bake while I was there.”
“We also had lectures which was really, really useful for me. Our consultant psychiatrist gave us a lecture once a week which was a great opportunity to gain an understanding of the people around you or the people outside of hospital, about how the human brain works and how different experiences impact the human brain, or what psychosis is.”
“They looked at me as an equal which was really, really important for me. They properly listened to what you were going through. When I went to St Patrick’s it felt like I was listened to.”
Connie recently released her song “H-always” and will perform it live at Body and Soul.
“I recorded it in the hospital music room. When I wrote it I wasn’t intending on it not being released. But with that song, I got so much out of that music room, that I felt it was important to release it because I felt I could share the context of it, and to allow it to be known how important those creative rooms are to people in their recovery.”
“[In the hospital], you have room to breathe, and room to explore your thoughts and your brain. Pre-hospital is very different to post-hospital.”
She added: “Afterwards they don’t just show you the door and say ‘enjoy your life’. There are different stepdown programmes that you can do when you finish. There are different services you can access even though you’re not a patient in there anymore.”
Connie believes in regular psychotherapy sessions for everyone, regardless of whether people are well or not. Music and art are cathartic for her, she says.
“People find different ways to deal with any kind of mental health issues they have. For me up until this point, doing music to help with my anxiety, and art to be creative, is a very cathartic experience.”
“It was a way for me to deal with my anxiety, even if you don’t share the art with someone, you are getting something out of something negative. You feel a relief afterwards, you can breathe again: ‘it’s out of my head now, and it’s living somewhere that’s out of my own head’.”
Her recovery iss a “constant process”, she says.
“It’s still a process. I still have my bad days. I’m on my anti-depressant medication. It’s a constant process. It’s still on my mind all of the day. But I don’t have those [suicidal] impulses anymore.”
“I feel like I have more of an understanding of my brain now. If you’ve been through something once, you at least know where to turn. Touchwood I’ll never need it again, but worst case scenario if something awful were to happen I’ll at least know now what a hospital is like.”