“Your care coordinator called, she has cancelled your meeting today.” This isn’t the first time I have had to tell him this. In the past, she has been nearly an hour late without letting anyone know, she has not turned up sometimes and had no reason as to why. The service user has gone through a lot of trauma in his life, he has been repeatedly let down by people. He does not need to add being let down by care to this list.
“X has been arrested for assaulting a nurse in A&E.” We are shocked, how did this happen? We noticed signs of relapse, reported them to the right people, nothing got done. X had been to the hospital asking for help the night before, he knew he was unwell. They could not get an assessment done until a few days later. In the mean time, he was sent away. None of this information passed onto his full time support workers. He ends up in hospital with an assault charge. This could have been avoided.
As a support worker, I witness the failings of mental health services on a daily basis. I get angry on behalf of service users. I rant about it with colleagues. I hear about more social workers quitting because they cannot stand all the changes being made to save money. They refuse to watch quality of care decline and service users suffer because someone is making decisions without giving a shit about the impact on real lives.The users of mental health services are seen as numbers on a piece of paper, nothing more.
I have experienced these failings myself. I have been on numerous waiting lists whilst my mental health deteriorated. As a teenager, I was passed from counsellor to counsellor unable to build any trust, unable to get any real help. I was not able to get treatment for my eating disorder as I could not afford the train journeys there. As an adult, I have got the courage to call the crisis team, only for them to tell me there’s nothing they can do to help. I have told people in assessments that I plan to kill myself and been sent home.
Recently, my MBT group therapists announced that (after several other big changes to the service including location) they were being moved to other areas. The time of the group will be changed. It takes a long time for people to trust and open up to therapists. Now, they are leaving. People will have to move groups as they can no longer make the time due to childcare commitments and such.
This is happening to people who are already vulnerable, already struggling. These services are adding stress where there is barely space for any more in our lives. Nobody seems to give a damn.
GP’s are still not trained well enough in dealing with mental health –
“When I first spoke to a doctor, it wasn’t my usual one. I was 15 and thought this woman couldn’t be less interested. She sat reading me a questionnaire in the most monotone voice. I was already nervous and ashamed and her attitude just really put me off.”
Medication is still being given as the main treatment. Most of the people I work with have no access to therapy. They are drugged to the point of being unable to stay awake for more than a couple of hours. Despite there being increasing debates in the world of psychology about the importance of alternative treatments, it simply is not happening.
The users of mental health services are the ones being screwed over. The people who are vulnerable are being let down over and over again.These are people who often will not have the energy, motivation or willpower to fight back and speak up for themselves.
I asked tumblr users to share their experiences with me:
“3 worst experiences with the nhs. Having the first mental health nurse call the crisis team. Couldn’t trust her again. Being told I was low risk. Tried to kill myself a week later. Being told I wasn’t that bad because I went to the appointment.”
A common theme in these experiences was that it was not just a one time failing. It happened more than once, in different areas of the services, with different professionals. This leads one to believe that the entire mental health system needs fixing, not just GP’s knowledge or crisis teams.
What is being done to change this? Not enough. Charities like Mind are working hard to increase understanding and awareness of mental health. This is, of course, incredibly important. However, practical changes that the government keeps talking about are simply not good enough.
The government released statistics in August 2015 claiming that the use of police cells for those in crisis has halved. This sounds great, on the surface. But, how can we know that this is not just a result of less people being willing to report a crisis? Or that people are being sent home instead? Personally, I was sent home when in crisis. Since then, I have never used crisis support because I do not trust that they will help in any way. I know that this is true for more than just me.
Essentially, not enough is being done. Not enough is changing. It is not happening fast enough. People with mental health issues need support. Reaching out for support is such a huge step and being put down or failed when you finally have the courage to do this is like a slap round the face.
What can we do? Speak up. Talk about your shit experiences. Ask your local MP what they are doing. Failings of mental health services can lead to death. How many people will need to die before people take notice. Therapists, social workers and psychiatrists sit back too often and feel powerless against bureaucratic changes that will be detrimental to service users. But, you have more power than us, advocate on our behalf, do something.