999 What’s Your Emergency is a series currently airing on Channel 4 on Monday evenings at 9pm.
Last nights episode upset me. In part, because it was so accurate. I suppose also because there have been times when it could have been me… hell, it WAS me. It also frustrated me immensely, simply because these situations should not happen, and when they do, they should be managed better. Don’t get me wrong, the ambulance staff did absolutely nothing wrong.
I shall start from the beginning before I confuse you all! This episode was specifically about mental health problems. It started off with a man on a roof who wanted to jump, and covered several problems, including a gentleman who slit his wrists and someone who jumped in front of a train.
The episode really highlighted something I have been saying for quite some time. Our mental health service is completely inadequate. Mental health is one of the easiest services to cut, 1) because a lot of the service users are unable to create too much of a fuss about it, and 2) because it is easy to pass the responsibility around. It is not like cancer, where the oncology department alone deals with it. With mental health, care can be provided by hospitals, designated ‘houses’, community teams, your GP, charities, organisations amongst others. And because of that, no one will accept responsibility for a patient, always claiming one of the other services should be dealing with it. It also means paperwork gets lost, the patient doesn’t get any continuity of care, and problems are made worse when patients finally find someone they can talk to properly and are quickly moved on again, leaving us frustrated and upset.
I will use my experiences this year alone to prove my point. In April, I went into ‘crisis’. I decided I was fed up of being alive, and didn’t want to fight any more. I wanted to give up. But I am one of the lucky ones. I have been blessed with an extremely supportive family that try their very best to help. Even with their support, however, I was not doing well. I have a long history of self harm, almost always by overdose. And there have been some very significant overdoses in my past.
This time, instead of overdosing, I decided to get help. So, as I had been instructed to do in the past, I phoned an ambulance. I was taken to hospital, and I waited 7 hours to see the Psych team. They sent me home with a promise that I would receive a visit the following day. A week later, after not so much as a phone call. I went back. This time, I went by taxi. I told them I didn’t feel I could keep myself safe. So, again, I waited for the Psych team. This time, I waited over 12 hours to be seen. They were aware I had medication with me, simply because I wanted to show them what the doctors had put me on. When they came to see me, at around 2.30 in the morning, I spoke to them for around 15 minutes. They, again, said I should go home, and that I would be contacted in the following week.
Now I am not sure what more I could have done to beg for help. So I overdosed while I was in the hospital. It was the first time I had overdosed on Tramadol, and it made me quite ill. I don’t think the doctor, I mean receptionist, actually thought I had done it, because I wasn’t give activated charcoal and instead was told to sit in the waiting room. I passed out at about 5 in the morning and ended up in recuss about 6. At 9am, I was feeling much better as the drip had worked and I was moved into another waiting room. At around lunchtime, the Psych team AGAIN tried to send me home. I refused to go, and I admit I lost my temper a little and shouted at them, asking them if they needed to see me hanging to help me. So they agreed to keep me in for a while. I was sent to yet another waiting room. And at 3am the next morning I was finally allocated a bed on the mental health ward. I wont even go in to the fact that I had to clean it and make it myself!!
I was kept in for a little over two weeks, my medication was changed around and I was referred to get more help.
Whilst on the ward, I already mentioned the discrimination that happened from a medical professional, a consultant, no less, who refused to have one of ‘them’ patients on his ward. I needed to see him because of a separate medical issue that occurred whilst on the mental health warning, resulting in a 4 day stint on the post operative ward, of all places! Further to that, I also found out that all of the hospitals mental health wards were being shut down. I estimate that is a loss of around 50 beds. It also means that the next hospital that has beds is now about an hours drive away, instead of 20 minutes. We also know that that hospital never has spare beds anyway!
It infuriates me because this service is essential. It is just as essential as an observation ward, or an oncology department. Yet it gets cut, and cut, and nobody listens to anybody speaking out about it. It is so, so easy to dismiss mental health. Get over it. Pick yourself up, and pull yourself together. Yet it is a real problem. It is as real as any broken bone. And what makes it worse is that there is no cure.
When somebody is told they have an incurable disease, and that all that can be done is manage the symptoms to try to reduce the pain, they should be given the very best opportunities there are. And yet when someone gets a mental health diagnosis, it IS a life sentence. And the very best you can hope for is that you don’t fall. Forget actually being happy. But apparently that is not enough. Apparently we need to get kicked down and shot away by our government too. Imagine telling a cancer patient they can’t get treatment? Imagine the uproar that would happen if THEIR paperwork was lost??