Earlier this month I completed a questionnaire for the Care Quality Commission, regarding mental health crisis care.
A mental health crisis can include:
- suicidal behaviour
- panic attacks
- psychotic episodes
- Irrational behaviour that could lead to a person endangering themselves
My experience with crisis care began when I was severely depressed. I had left a job and was unemployed, living off Employment Support Allowance and Disability Living Allowance. The medication I was taking was not working out for me. I didn’t feel very stable and I had fluctuated from a manic phase in the summer to a depressive state in the autumn, with moments of rapid cycling where I hardly knew what mood I was experiencing. I wanted to switch medication again but my psychiatrist had wanted to give it more time.
I remember that my mood started to plummet further than I could have imagined. I became suicidal. I’m stubborn and don’t like asking for help, so I had never rung the crisis number given to me by my psychiatrist. The day had come when I needed to. I had spread my medication over a table and cried hysterically staring at the tiny pills. Luckily for me, my mum turned up at the door. She had been checking on me nearly everyday during the week when my boyfriend was at work since I had been struggling. She saw the state I was in and instantly said,
“You need to ring the crisis team.”
I rang the number. A woman answered with a brisk tone. I couldn’t catch what she had said so I put the phone down. Often if I am very depressed I find it difficult to keep up with a fast paced conversation and at that moment the voice on the end of the line was speaking far too quickly for my sluggish mind to process. Second try, same voice, but this time I managed to hear the words ‘mental health.’ I blurted out,
“I need to talk to someone, now. I want to kill myself.” The voice responded with,
“Ah, you must be trying to get hold of the person on duty for the crisis team today. This is the wrong number, this is the admin team, they’re on another extension. I’ll give you the number.” I grabbed the nearest pen and the back of an envelope and shakily wrote down the number. I had to ask her to repeat it several times as she rattled off the numbers, much to her annoyance from the tutting I could hear. I took a deep breath and dialled again. I got through to the crisis care team and again, through sobs and deep breaths explained what was happening to me. A man with a calm, official voice asked for my name. There was a pause. The response was,
“Ok Katie, I need to go and look up your file. I will call you back.” He hung up. This man who works for the so called ‘crisis team’ hung up on a psychiatric patient who had moments ago explained to him that she wanted to commit suicide no, not wanted to, was about to. I had to wait fifteen minutes. You can imagine that for someone on the verge of taking their own life, fifteen minutes feels like a fucking endless, incredibly agonising time to wait. The phone rang and I picked it up immediately. The voice said,
“Katie I have looked through your files and see that you are on prescribed medication; resperidone for Bipolar disorder. I suggest that you continue taking the medication and you should soon start to feel better.” And that was it. If I had been on my own at that point I believe I would have tried to take my own life, I was so lucky and grateful that I wasn’t. My mum couldn’t get much sense out of me, so she sprang into action and rang my psychiatrists’ office and managed to book an appointment for me for the following day. I wasn’t left alone for the rest of the day, with my boyfriend coming home early from work to look after me.
When I met with my psychiatrist, I told him what had happened. He sat and listened and then replied that I wasn’t the first person to complain this month. Another of his patients’ had had a negative experience with crisis care. He told me that he would tell them of his concerns for the welfare of his patients and that in the meantime if I had an emergency to ring his office straight away. His professionalism and genuine concern for my well being improved my view of mental health services after such an awful experience. I have never phoned the crisis team again, instead choosing to reach out to psychiatrist or gp.
I felt that it was my duty to contact the Care Quality Commission. Such irresponsible and negligent care could easily cost a person their life. I had someone with me, but many others go through a crisis alone. Crisis care provided by local NHS services are exactly that – for people, their friends or family to contact. When urgent and life threatening symptoms have emerged, people need to feel confident and secure in contacting crisis care.
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