Hill End

About two years ago I stumbled across a blogger called ‘Pitsea pirate’ who gave a poignant description of his childhood and how he ended up in Hill End Adolescent Unit for six months when he was twelve because he kept running away from home. This led me to also read a report by a social worker on a blog called the Needle blog called ‘the therapy of fear’ about adolescent units. The links to these are below. These blogs brought back some bad, unpleasant memories, albeit from 35 years ago, that I had buried away and I had to have counselling for about eight months.

Hill End Adolescent Unit was a specialist unit that was closed down in the early 1990s. It was staffed by social workers, teachers, nurses and doctors. I spent more than three months in the Hill Adolescent Unit in the 1970s as a young girl of 15, after being wrongly diagnosed with schizophrenia, a devastating label to put on any young person. I have decided to share my memories of Hill End because I am concerned that children today are going through the same horrors now in similar institutions.

At the time I was unhappy at school and had a troubled, disturbed home background. Prior to being admitted to the Unit, my parents took me to see the family doctor and I sat in the surgery while they all discussed me as if I wasn’t there. After that, I remember my parents taking me to the adolescent unit (a foreboding, shabby building). When they left I have a clear memory of standing in front of an office, terrified realising I was locked in.

There were a few members of staff in the office and a lady just came up to me and offered me a drink to drink in a little cup which was a sedative. She didn’t explain what it was and I chucked the drink on the floor. Some of the children came out to look at what was going on. A boy came up and said if you don’t take the drink they inject you. None of the staff bothered to explain this to me. I tried to run away, but one of the girls ran after me and dragged me back. A member of staff then came out with a syringe, and I tried to run away again. I am sure I remember although it was decades ago a man and a woman jumping on me and pulling my skirt and pants down in front of everyone and injecting me with the sedative, although I was 15 years old, only five foot two inches and quite thin – about 7 stone. The staff didn’t care less about me. I had an audience for this too, which (if that’s possible) made it even more humiliating. It was very frightening and unnecessary as I was never a violent child.

Then I remember the nurses taking me to the dormitory area and putting me into bed. I know three of them sat on me, one of the women I remember sat on my shoulders. I was worried she might suffocate me. After a couple of minutes I blacked out.

The next day I woke up, groggy and disorientated and my case was under my bed. A lot of my clothes had been stolen (by the other inmates I presumed), half of them were missing. Someone had undressed me and I was in bed with just a nightie on. I explored my surroundings. The sleeping area of the unit consisted of cubicles with little single beds. There was no privacy, no pictures. The other children there seemed hostile. I had no life experience and they were like strangers – I don’t remember ever talking with them about their lives or backgrounds – I don’t think we were allowed to. It was a weird place where the staff displayed a lack of compassion and understanding. They regularly sedated children as a form of punishment. This happened to the boys more than the girls.

One of the therapies was we had to sit round in a circle and were made to talk. If you had a problem you had to call a meeting and there were meetings every day. I only called one once, when an one of the male patients kept trying to touch me inappropriately (one of the girls told me to do this) and the nurse brought out a big needle and three of them wrestled him to the ground and injected him. Another boy who seemed autistic and kept crying and wailing was constantly being sedated. I know he ended up in Napsbury Hospital as I saw him a few years later when I visited a friend who worked there.

The sedation – even though it is several decades ago, I have memories of the sedation which knocked you out in seconds and its side effects. The staff didn’t explain anything about the side effects to you. Initially after being injected with the drugs I was very ill – my neck would suddenly go into spasms and I had a strange tongue (it was hard to eat). One day my neck went into spasms and it went right back and I collapsed in a heap – I think one of the boys picked me up. I thought I truly had gone mad – it was very distressing.

I remember a room downstairs where children sat around and were ignored and there was continuous music. After admission I sat on a chair in this room so drugged up I couldn’t move. One of the staff called me over to him; it was probably because he wanted to call a meeting. I didn’t answer him so he picked me up by the hair and dragged me over. This particular nurse told me I would probably end up in the main hospital.

I remember swimming trips and hiding at the edge of the pool, hoping nobody I knew would see me. I remember a girl who used jump on my back, and knock me flying. I also remember I went a few times to a little school where there weren’t any real lessons. I remember once somebody chucked all the used sanitary towels in a couple of containers onto the floor into the girls’ washroom, and I was made to pick them up without gloves, even though I hadn’t done it – I wasn’t even asked if I had. The nurse made everybody watch – then they sedated me. I do not remember any of the staff speaking to us individually, and explaining things before they did them instead of those ‘meetings’ – although it is a long time ago.

Anyway, eventually after three or more months I went home. When I went home I had problems sleeping or concentrating on anything. I also suffered from nervousness and the shakes. I wonder now if it was post-traumatic stress, but that wasn’t recognised then. I think my time in the Unit did me more harm than good. Mum told me never to speak of the Unit to anyone outside the family but I think we had family therapy for a while.

My school said I was capable of going to University, but I didn’t because I had missed so much school. There was no attempt to continue my education in the Unit. I spent a few years in my early 20s deeply depressed about my situation – but didn’t trust psychiatry enough to get help. I eventually sorted myself out and now as a middle aged woman I have a reasonably good life. However, I never had children – maybe my experiences put me off – something I have wondered….

To read more of the blogs…
http://theneedleblog.wordpress.com/operation-greenlight/east-england/hertfordshire/hill-end-adolescent-unit
http://thepitseapirate.blogspot.co.uk/2006/07/merry-go-round.html

4 thoughts on “Hill End

  1. I was in Hill end in 82-83,i was put in there from a childrens home called Maynard house in Barnet,They said i was out ov control.As a child i sufferd fissickle and sexual abuse,i just want to add that the sexual abuse was nothing to do with my family and that they wasnt even aware of it.There is a lot of people complaining about hill end,Ive spoke to so called mental health team,social services quite a few times saying i want my records so i can take them to court.Ive always been told records are not held that long,other ppl have been told all records was lost in a fire,very conveinient for the abusers isnt it,it seems to me that something is being coverd up because they know they did wrong,there is even nurses who used to work there who left and complained about how children were treated,is this going to be brushed under the carpet or is someone going to stop cruelty like this .ive reciently seen media footage that records are not disposed of after 10 years which is one of the things that i was told,we all need to stand together and stand up against child abuse.God bless any children who suffered,and i hope all the instigators ROT IN HELL

  2. Just wanted to add the unit closed in Autumn of 1995, moved, rebranded as Forest House which is still in operation today. Some of the old HEAU nurses promoted as senior managers either with Forest House or other Child and Adolescent mental health services around the country. I was a patient at HEAU in 1995 as sedation was still Back in use then. The liquid drug was 300mg of largatil and 300mg of chloralhydrate . The
    injection was either acuphase or largatil with lorazepam. Abuse was rife at the unit – physical assaults daily . Being filmed when stripped searched . Daily two hour “action group” therapy where young people were filmed and analysed by more staff behind screen. Sexually inappropriate touching when you were sedated . I remember the unit manager sedating every single patient on the unit as the unit was severely short staffed. The use of stupid controlling words like “you being provocative “you are dangerous” “how can we make you feel safe?” The teaching staff at the onsite school were the worst. Swimming was traumatic and far from therapeutic. I just remember male teacher putting his hands down my trunks and exposing himself in the changing room , masterbating. I was only 13 , sectioned , tricked to go to HEAU after taken my 3rd failed suicide overdose attempt by A&E staff. All the young people at the unit were not unwell or bad . One boy was admitted to the unit because his parents did not like the fact he came out gay to them at the age of 14 . Rest of the young prople had depression , ocd or anger problems. I am now in my early 30’s , secondary school teacher for young people with emotional/behavioural issues. Even today, I have never got over my experiences of HEAU , just hidden away . My personnel relationships are rubbish as I an incredibly insecure and suffer from trust issues . I have bouts of depression . If I can be any help , assistance or support . Please do not hesitate to contact me .
    Please don’t forget HEAU , relocated and rebranded to Forest House adolescent unit which is still in operation today . An

  3. I’m absolutely appalled by what everyone is saying about their experiences. You are all saying the same thing, so surely even without your records your statements and testimonies must be worth something. Maybe with a class action you could all get some kind of result. It’s a small consolation for such treatment and ruined lives. Good luck to all of you in your lives.

  4. All these posts I’m reading are bringing it all back, no one understands or seems to care. I was in this place aged 14 in 1992 and traumatised to this day. I’m now 39 years old and my life has been a misery ever since. Resulting undiagnosed and untreated PTSD and dissociative disorder. Told my records were burnt in a fire. I have no idea what purpose this place was intended to serve but I know for sure it did more harm than good to me and everyone else I know of. I can best describe it as some sort of sadistic cult. A living nightmare.

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