My son was sectioned in an inpatient unit – I warned Katie Price to save son Harvey from this living nightmare
AS her 15-year-old son shuffled into the room dressed in soiled clothes that didn’t belong to him, Isabelle Garnett felt her heart break.
Matthew, 15, suffers from similar conditions to Harvey Price – including autism, learning disabilities, ADHD and anxiety – and to Isabelle's horror, this caused him to be sectioned.
But it quickly became clear that sectioning was doing him more harm than good.
Despite repeated attempts to get help for the six-foot-three teenager, he hit crisis point with his lashing out from fear and was bundled into an institution in 2015.
Katie Price has spoken of how her greatest fear is that her son Harvey could get sectioned because of his unruly behaviour.
The star met Isabelle and her son Matthew, now 20, for her documentary Katie Price: Harvey and Me.
Here, Isabelle reflects on a dystopian nightmare she hopes Katie and Harvey will be able to avoid.
Secluded, drugged and restrained
Isabelle and her partner did everything they could to keep their son safe, but sadly his rapid mood changes and size made him difficult to care for by themselves.
Although they asked for help, they say they didn't get it – and were simply advised to dial 999 if things reached "crisis point."
One day when they were worried for his safety they did just that and Matthew was rushed to A&E.
Isabelle recalled: “My husband and I spent the entire day in A&E waiting for the psychiatrist to see Matthew and communicate with us.
“It was around midnight, when the psychiatrist and a professional we hadn’t spoken to before and to our knowledge hadn’t met Matthew before either, told us that Matthew needed to be sectioned. Matthew was found a bed in an adult Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit in the hospital, despite only being a child.
“The psychiatrist informed us Matthew needed to be sectioned for his and others’ safety and be sent for “assessment and treatment” for 12 weeks.
"We weren’t happy about this decision, but we recognised that Matthew was clearly in crisis and we didn’t know what the other options were. We were told this is what he needed and we believed the professionals."
Those 12 weeks turned into 15 months – during which Isabelle says Matthew was physically restrained, held face down on the floor by adults, forced injections of anti-psychotic medication and put in solitary confinement.
She said: “Going to visit Matthew felt like going into a prison. He was not a criminal, he just has a learning disability and was struggling.
“I had to leave all my possessions in the reception before being taken down to a basement where Matthew was living, with basically no sunlight.
“He was brought to us and on a good day he might be able to say a few words, but very often he was so traumatised he was unable to speak and would freeze up. He’d be in a position and unable to move.
He wasn’t getting care and treatment, instead it was restraints, seclusion and forced to take anti-psychotic drugs which he hasn’t needed since
“Matthew would come in with soiled clothes and on more than one occasion there was excrement in his shoes and he’d be wearing clothes over his pyjamas that weren’t his.
“It was heartbreaking and we were scared for him. His conditions mean he needs help with self-care and he simply wasn’t being given it.
“I used to take baby wipes in with me so I could clean him up and give him some care and get him clean.
“He wasn’t getting care and treatment, instead it was restraints, seclusion and forced to take anti-psychotic drugs which he hasn’t needed since.”
Kids locked up for years
Matthew was kept in the unit for 15 months during which time he didn’t eat properly, and was unable to exercise which resulted in a vitamin D deficiency from lack of sunlight.
Thankfully, a second opinion from a doctor who agreed with Isabelle that he would be better cared for in the community meant that Matthew was able to be taken out of the unit.
Horrifically, Matthew is one of the lucky ones. Most sectioned special needs children spend almost six years on average in one of these units.
He now lives at specialist care centre Alderwood who tailor their care to his specific needs and make sure that he lives a full life.
Isabelle said: “There are no words to explain how amazing, intuitive, compassionate, and incredible their staff are.
“They’re always one step ahead of us when it comes to making sure Matthew is safe and happy.
“His days are now meaningful and motivating. He’s able to give back to society working on a farm and running a charity tuck shop one day a week.
"He’s worlds away from where he was in the inpatient unit after being sectioned.
“Matthew is living proof of the catastrophic consequences of the wrong support but also the hugely positive consequences of getting it right."
Isabelle says that giving young people like Matthew the right support i not only better for them, but is also cheaper than the wrong 'medical model' support.
She said: “It's not rocket science – it's about providing a predictable and structured routine.”
Isabelle’s experience is precisely what Katie Price fears happening to Harvey, who has multiple conditions.
But Isabelle is confident that with the right support, Katie’s family will never experience what hers did.
She said: “I'm very thankful to Katie for sharing her experiences in trying to get the right support for her son as he transitions to adult life and for having the opportunity to contribute as I think it will make a huge difference to many families.
“I'm really pleased to have been able to share with Katie and with other parents how crucial it is to trust your instincts as a parent.
"The system currently isn't fit for purpose. Families like ours have to fight constantly for every bit of support our children need.
“I will never forget the experience of meeting Katie and hearing about Harvey. Two mothers and two young men living in different worlds and yet have so much in common.
“One day, I hope Harvey and Matthew may be able to meet each other too.
"Both young men have such great senses of humour, I'm sure they'll have us in stitches!”
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