My Experience with the Mental Health Crisis Team
I know it’s December. I know I promised Christmas content and nothing but Christmas content all month - but that was before I went and absolutely ball bagged Blogmas and didn’t write enough content during November. Spent too much time not in the house, and not enough time writing. But what can you do when there are so many amazing shows in such a short space of time? Go to them, and bag yourself a reputation along the way.
Anyway. Blogmas is cancelled, normal service is resumed with a sprinkling of festive content here and there, because I did get some posts written.
On the plate today: my experience with the crisis team back in 2016, and an impassioned plea as to why mental health services in Britain need to change, because people’s lives are at stake. Sounds dramatic? That’s because it is. It is dramatic because the people who are in need of services like the crisis teams situated across the country are among some of the most vulnerable people in society. You don’t call the crisis team out for fun.
You call them because you are in crisis.
Clue is in the name. Whether that crisis be suicidal thoughts, serious self-harm, an episode of psychosis, or some other equally horrendous mental health episode, the fact that it is a crisis stills remains. The person needing the crisis team need urgent medical attention, and the only other way to get it in that moment would be to go to A&E. And trust me, A&E is not the place you want to be when you’re experiencing a mental health crisis. Some people can’t even make it that far. The great thing about the crisis teams is they visit you in your own home, and so there’s no need to even leave the house.
Sounds like a valuable, excellent service, right? And one that is much needed?
Much needed it is, but excellent might be pushing it. Although, I say that and I don’t have experience of any other crisis teams apart from the one I saw when I lived in Devon, and was in the middle of a serious crisis. One that never really solved itself, but eventually got easier. And even then, I only saw two members of said crisis team. I don’t even remember their names, or what they looked like.
But I do have a lasting memory of their visit. And it’s not a good lasting memory. If it was, I probably wouldn’t be writing this piece. Speaking of which: I don’t think I’ve yet written about anything positive to do with my mental health experience. Probably should rectify that.
For context: in the summer of 2016 I was going through a period of severe depression. Self-harming daily, battling constant suicidal thoughts, unable to do much but lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. In March of that year I’d had to drop out of university and go back home because of poor mental health and an inability to cope, and then in the June I left my job at Starbucks because I couldn’t cope. I didn’t really have anything to keep me going at that point. My family were at the end of their tether trying to cope. My younger sister had been sent to my grandparents for a week to get her out of the house and somewhere a bit more stable.
I had forgotten most of these details until just now. That summer was not one I wish to repeat, ever. And this is where the crisis team came in.
I had been to the doctor for the upteenth time (god bless Dr Dudbridge, the only doctor to listen to my medication issues and actually try something new), and he was so worried about what I might possibly do that he arranged for the crisis team to come out the following day to make sure I was still alive and kicking, and take any further action should they deem it necessary.
Reader: they were shit.
Two people turned up at the house the day after - very inconvenient timing, my other set of grandparents had just turned up for a visit so now the whole family knew I was having a complete breakdown - and we excused ourselves to the backroom.
The whole visit probably took under half an hour. They sat in front of me, faces like thunder, and asked me to tell them what had been going on over the past few weeks to warrant being under the crisis team. This is, by the way, a little talked about fact and one that I need to expand on soon, but every time you see a new professional you have to rehash your life story to them. And saying those words over and over time and time again isn’t easy. Reliving being in the unit, having to say what you’ve been thinking over and over - it doesn’t help.
But I did it. I explained how low I’d been feeling, and the thoughts I’d been having, and how I’d been self-harming daily and how medication really wasn’t helping much but it had been altered.
And they just stared at me.
“What did you think we were going to do, wave a magic wand and make it all better?”
I shit you not, those were their exact words. They wanted me to tell them what to do to make this situation better, and when I didn’t know because I wanted to die, said the above words to me. Wave a magic wand. I have never felt so belittled, and patronised, and not listened to in my entire life. I was in tears at this point. I wanted these people out of my home.
I was promised they would help, and they did nothing but make things worse. After the infamous magic wand comment (which I can laugh about now, but the memory still feels as raw and painful as it did the day it happened), I shut down and refused to communicate any further. I couldn’t trust these people with my feelings, I couldn’t trust these people with my care.
I wanted them out of the house.
And so, taking cues from my clearly non-engaging body language, they wrote down a list of websites I could visit if I was feeling bad - by the way, not helpful when you’re in complete crisis and have told them you’ve tried visiting websites - and left.
I never heard from the crisis team again, despite supposedly being under their care until I was out of the crisis period.
The crisis team were supposed to be there to help in one of the lowest moments of my life. They were supposed to keep me safe, and offer help and resources. They did nothing but make me feel worse. And I know, I know, what a valuable service they offer and what they could have done and how much this country needs them. The crisis teams keep people out of hospitals and in their own homes.
But my experience was not a positive one, and I imagine I’m not alone. It’s just another example of where our stretched mental health services are letting down some of the most vulnerable people in society, and where more money and resources and training need to be invested. There’s so much good a service like the crisis team could do. And no, I don’t expect them to wave a magic wand and make it all better.
I do expect them to keep people in crisis safe. And that’s where they failed.