Mandy Stevens: ‘From mental health chief to psychiatric ward patient’
- Credit: emma bartholomew
The Gazette meets Mandy Stevens, who has seen mental health provision as a clinical nurse, hospital director, and now a patient
“I didn’t plan to write an article and go viral, but not many directors of mental health nursing get admitted,” Mandy Stevens tells the Gazette in Cafe Oto.
Mandy had spent 12 weeks battling suicidal thoughts on a psychiatric ward at City and Hackney Centre for Mental Health when she decided to share her story online – “to reach out and say mental illness can happen to anyone”.
“I knew that before, but I didn’t know someone could be that ill and that depressed and not just die,” she admitted. “I honestly thought I should have died of just being sad.
“I couldn’t believe how terrible I looked. I remember lying on my bed thinking ‘I’ll take a selfie,’ because I knew there was an important story in my admission,” added Mandy.
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That social media post from December – accompanied by a photo of herself with matted hair and eyes swollen from so much crying – has been shared more than 130,000 times online.
Mandy started working in mental health “by complete accident” 30 years ago, taking a job as a cleaner on a mental health ward aged 16.
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She went on to train as a nurse and eventually became director of nursing at Barnet, Enfield and Haringey.
Looking back now she realises things were building up for longer than she imagined – but it wasn’t until a meeting with her boss in October that she became tearful and realised she was depressed.
Within 10 days she was suicidal and on the highest possible dose of antidepressants in hospital.
“One morning I remember waking up and going for breakfast and I wanted to kill myself before the ward round. I thought: ‘How can I kill myself in the next hour and a half?’ As director of nursing I’ve worked with the families of people who have tried to kill themselves or people who survived a suicide attempt with amputated legs or brain damage.”
Now back home in Stoke Newington, one of the biggest lessons has been the importance of compassionate care.
“When I was feeling that ill and people showed they cared it made me feel valued and it helped me get better.”
Mandy has seen mental health from all angles.
“I’ve done the clinical work and then I’m commissioned the budgets and made difficult decisions about how many nurses you will have and closing wards and beds,” she said.
“It’s easy to say let’s close something like the Crisis Café at Homerton Hospital - but that’s the kind of stuff that’s helped me get well, so when I get my next job and they say ‘let’s have less occupational therapists’ or ‘let’s cancel the yoga’, I’ll say no.”