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How to cope when you're a whistleblower

How to cope when you're a whistleblowerDear Lesley,

How do people cope if they’ve been the family whistle-blower, trying to report abuse of elderly parents by close relatives?

9 years ago I warned both the NHS and the local social services department that my parents were at risk of abuse. My letters and phone calls were ignored and my visits have even been denied by members of staff.

Both my parents’ medical records were only released to me after a two and a half year battle, and only thanks to my MPs intervention. While they were heavily redacted - some pages more black than white – these records have now triggered a number of serious inquiries into the care my parents received. They indicated, among many things, that my meetings to report ongoing abuse were noted in my mother’s NHS records, proving that I had raised the alarm to no avail.

As a result of these ongoing investigations I’ve been diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder by my GP and referred to the hospital for cognitive behavioural therapy. However, my specialist believed that my case was too advanced - he was sorry but he wasn’t qualified to help.

My condition is affecting my relationship with my husband, I jump every time he enters the room, and sometimes I freeze, unable to speak.

In normal life, I'm not exactly confident, but I give presentations at conferences and travel to cities and towns I don't know, meeting new people all the time.

Now, I often feel guilty for having been so ineffectual with my abuse reports. I recently received news that multiple NHS investigations will continue on for longer periods of time, the wait is agonising. My NHS advocate hopes for a serious case review.

Any suggestions welcome.

Thanks, R.

Lesley says:

Dear R

I'm so sorry you’ve had such a tough experience and that life continues to be so hard for you. Sometimes it feels like whatever we do to try to help our elderly parents results in feelings of guilt and inadequacy.

In your case it looks like this is compounded by feeling that you've been let down by members of your own family, by the authorities and by those you have turned to for help. And it seems like you also feel guilty and upset that you couldn't protect your parents despite your best endeavours.

Unfortunately, 'whistle-blowers’ often suffer from guilt and depression even though their purpose is to expose problems in order to put things right. It seems that you have been battling for many years and are exhausted by it all. And it looks like the story isn't finished yet and the ending is unknown. No wonder you are feeling so stressed and jumpy.

I’m not qualified to talk about the legal aspects of your situation but what I notice is that you seem to have explored every avenue in order to do the best by your parents. You talked to the Citizens Advice Bureau, Action on Elder Abuse and your MP as well as the council and you now have an NHS advocate working on the case.

So while you haven't been able to resolve things to your satisfaction, and sadly, it’s not possible to turn back the clock, I think you should give yourself a pat on the back for the incredible efforts that you have made to look out for your parents’ welfare.

You asked for suggestions. You also mentioned that you've been to the GP who diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is something that is often experienced by soldiers returning from war – which suggests that you have been literally ‘shell-shocked’ by your experience trying to help your parents.

The GP referred you for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and agreed with you that pills wouldn't solve the problem. While I understand that you are reluctant to take pills, you may find that in the short term some medication might help to calm your nerves.

The CBT practitioner probably said this wasn't the right approach for you because CBT is based around changing behaviour and rethinking problems rather than dealing with trauma. But there are psycho-therapists who specialise in PTSD - this may or may not be available on the NHS. So I would suggest that you go back to your GP, who you’ve said was very helpful, to ask if short-term medication is appropriate and see if they can recommend a PTSD specialist.

If you need to find somebody privately yourself do make sure that they are on one of the registers of approved psycho-therapists. The UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and the British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC) all have searchable directories of accredited therapists. And do talk to one or two about their qualifications and experience, ask how they could help and be sure that this is someone you can trust before making a decision.

You mention that NHS investigations are continuing and that the wait is ‘agonising’. For the sake of your well-being and your relationship with your husband, I think you need to find ways to ‘let go’ a little bit if you can.

It sounds like this whole whistle-blowing saga has become the key focus of your life. But it is so uncertain in terms of timing and outcome and if there is going to be a serious case review then there may be little more you can do for the time being. By holding on so tightly you're adding to the huge stress that you already feel.

Do you think you could find other things to focus on - perhaps throwing yourself into your work, doing something you enjoy or learning meditation to help you relax and take your mind off this?

I'm sure there is a much bigger and more distressing story behind what you have told us and again I do sympathise as it must be so hard for you. I do hope that, perhaps with help, you will find a way to come through this and move into better times.

All best wishes from the team at When They Get Older and thank you for sharing the challenges you’re facing.

Dr Lesley Trenner is an Ageing Parent specialist with extensive qualifications and experience in life coaching. Lesley provides one-to-one help for people who are struggling to balance work and care, or cope with mid-life, family and career challenges. Sessions are available face-to-face (London) or on the phone. Email Lesley or call 07919 880 250 for a free introductory chat.

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