“If you’re struggling you can go to a&e”
“If you really need support go to a&e”
“There’s always a&e if you’re in crisis”
Have you ever sat in a busy a&e waiting area? I have, 35 times between January 2015 and now. It’s not much fun, long waits, uncomfortable seats and lots of sick people. Now think about sitting in that environment when you’re in extreme emotional distress, maybe feeling suicidal or wanting to harm yourself, it’s not a very nice environment at the best of times let alone when you’re in crisis.
Someone at a mental health crisis planning meeting recently said that everyone under a mental health service should have a detailed crisis plan drawn up in collaboration with them, their mental health team and carers/ family/ partner where appropriate; this seems like a sensible suggest except there are no crisis services. Mental health isn’t 9 – 5 people are more likely to be in crisis outside those hours when there are less things to do or people to see and when they’re more likely to be alone.
As I’ve said before I’m a regular at a&e a “frequent flyer” or “frequent attender” but I’ve never been pre crisis or because I want to hurt myself it’s always been afterwards. I’m used to it now I know the drill busy Drs and nurses on 12 hour shifts earning far too little don’t have the time, energy and often experience to sit down and talk about what’s wrong they often see stitching my arms up as an inconvenience when there are people who aren’t there because of self inflicted injuries. Sometimes I see the psych liaison which is more waiting usually on the “observation ward” a holding pen in a&e where people are dumped to avoid breaching the 4 hour rule, because there’s no a&e in my borough the psych team aren’t from my area or the services that operate in it, I’ve been discharged by the psych team in the early hours of the morning with no way of getting home and told to wait in reception until the buses start running, when I told them I was suicidal I was given a leaflet (it went in the bin as soon as I left).
When I was under a mental health team they’d let them know but now a letter gets sent to my GP and that’s it, no follow up, no further support, no one pretends I won’t be back again, my self harm has been described as chronic and not a concern because it’s been going on so long despite having permanent damage to my arms and recently a cut that took over a year to heal. I don’t see a&e as a place of support it’s not the appropriate place for people with mental health problems yet all over the country it’s the only option for so many people, the police and ambulance service are as frustrated by it as I am, although the police have some powers to take people to the minimal crisis services that exist the ambulance service has no option but to take people in crisis to a&e whether they want to go or not.
It may sound defeatist to say I’d only go to a&e after I self harm because I don’t see the point in going beforehand but the experiences I’ve had in a&e don’t feel supportive and often leave me feeling worse. At the last mental health crisis service meeting I attended a paramedic spoke about her frustration at not being able to take someone in distress to a more appropriate place than a&e, despite there being two crisis cafes and a crisis and recovery house covered by the mental health trust my borough comes under (though not actually located in my borough) only the police can actually take someone there the paramedics only option is to take someone to a&e whether they want to go or not.
A&e should be the last option not the only option it should only be considered after all other options have been exhausted or if someone needs medical attention it shouldn’t be a place people in distress are routinely sent to.