Waiting in crisis
Posted Wednesday 24 October 2012
Being in crisis can often involve stark contrast between bursts of traumatic and acutely stressful series of events, along with long periods of waiting on uncomfortable chairs, staring at the posters on the wall.
When I went into acute crisis in 2008, I felt so hopeless that often suicide felt like the only way out. I would become so distressed, and my friends and family would fear so much for my safety, that it became common for an ambulance to be called. After assurances from well-meaning and wonderfully kind paramedics that going to hospital would result in getting proper treatment, I would find myself in Accident and Emergency.
Ultimately, every time it ended up with me getting home as the sun was coming up: calmer, but just as hopeless. Take this process, repeat it over a number of months – and you have yourself a system that just does not work.
I believe Accident and Emergency as it is now does not work as an appropriate form of crisis intervention for several reasons, and my experiences alone, on top of thousands of others, document why.
Firstly, when in crisis I believe it is just not appropriate to be surrounded by non-mental health patients, particularly on weekend evenings when a lot of patients can be quite drunk and aggressive. I have been groped in Accident and Emergency, shouted at, and on one occasion a man exposed himself next to me and started urinating on the floor.
To someone not in crisis that would probably be disgusting, make them angry, or could even be seen as amusing by some, but when your inner world is collapsing, being in a place which feels overtly hostile can heighten the sense of inner chaos. As the inner chaos increases, you want to get as far away as possible, and not stay to get the treatment you need. It certainly doesn’t feel like a place of safety.
When a psychiatrist would eventually see me, our primary objective was always to get me admitted. I was suicidal, I was spiraling out of control – I was not safe. My best friend, my mum, and I felt unable to manage and that I should have been in residential care. We expressed this in every way we could but each time were told that there was no way they could help me.
Considering I have a complex history of mental illness, I find it hard to believe that staff never seemed sure what to say to me. One psychiatric nurse said “it’s just a break up love” and one psychiatrist said “I am afraid there is no treatment for your condition.” Taking a suicidal patient, telling them there is no treatment and then sending them on their way does seem desperately reckless to me.
In the end, my wonderfully supportive best friend ended up having to sleep in my room and check on me constantly to make sure I was safe, as well as try to contain my emotions when I started losing control. That was her job for me during this period, but really that is the job of trained professionals.
What worries me is that the vast majority of patients would not have that level of support available to them, not to mention the incalculable levels of stress it puts upon those caring for friends and family in crisis and the knock on effect on those relationships.
I, along with Mind’s recommendations in the crisis care campaign, believe that there are many, totally achievable ways Accident and Emergency can be improved, as well as other elements of crisis care for people with mental health problems. That’s why I’m supporting Mind's campaign for better crisis care services.
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