Crisis teams are often made up of mental health nurses and support workers who are on the end of the phone both in and out of hours. Some crisis services are twenty four hours a day whilst others may run until late evening. In my eyes they are as important as ‘999’ is in other emergencies. I know several people who have phoned their crisis team with their hoarded medication in front of them, or whilst walking towards a multistory car park. I know from my experience that it often feels like your last hope to be calling these people. It is a life saving service and incredibly important with hard working staff. I have a lot of respect for them but unfortunately I have had some unhelpful experiences with crisis teams and I know that I am not alone in this.
I have experienced two different crisis teams, one in my home county of Oxfordshire and my current one in South Wales. My experiences were very different and I think it is such a shame that this postcode lottery exists and it isn’t just with mental healthcare, it’s all healthcare.
In Oxfordshire, I did not have any positive experiences with the crisis team. I think part of the problem was that the team were based in Oxford and I lived a forty minute drive away so they were very reluctant to see me because understandably they were very busy and this would have taken a big chunk out of their day, but all the same I was a patient and a patient in need of help. I get very anxious about speaking on the phone to anybody, it is difficult enough on a good day. Building up the courage to phone whilst in a mental health crisis is extremely difficult, with crisis team I don’t know who is going to answer the phone and I’m going to have to say things that I find hard to verbalise. On the occasions that I managed to phone up I was always turned away. They would always find one reason or another why they could not speak to me, among some of the excuses they gave were that I needed to be referred to them (I did not, I was a patient with CMHT) and that my psychiatrist had told them not to engage in conversation with me. That made me particularly angry as it made me feel like a pest and yet I hardly contacted anyone from my mental health team. When I queried this at a later date, everyone tried to convince me that it had not been said. There is definitely something wrong when the crisis team adds to the crisis. I have been in a lot of distress, very suicidal and the crisis ‘care’ has pushed me over the edge. These services are often people’s last resort. They need to be aware of the consequences of putting the phone down on someone who is saying that they are in crisis. I know that there have been times in my life where I have phoned up in tears and ended up taking a deliberate overdose because I felt there was no help for me after being given an excuse as to why they could not speak to me.
Another time I was discharged from hospital with crisis team support and I did not have a phone call or a visit from the team. There was absolutely no contact or follow up.
My experience in South Wales has been better, there have been times when the crisis team have visited me and they stick to their word-if they say that they will call then they call. However, there is still some confusion. My care-coordinator had been in email contact with me and I was told to phone crisis team and so I phoned them out of hours and I was told that I was not on their list so they could not speak to me which had me in tears because I really wasn’t well and I was desperately seeking help and it felt as though I was being passed from person to person but nobody was actually doing anything. The next day when my care-coordinator found out what happened she put in a complaint and it was sorted with an apology but I often wonder if that’s enough. I am lucky at the moment because I live with family, if I am really unwell then I have people home with me during ‘out of hours’ and I can often make it through to morning because of their support but if I lived alone this would not be the case. It was thirteen hours from making that crisis call to seeing someone, if I lived alone then I know that I would have done something. Does an apology cut it when it’s too little too late?
A crisis team is for crisis care, an emergency. I doubt that if you dialled 999 for an ambulance that they would give excuses as to why they could not speak to you, you would not be refused an ambulance. Why is this not the same with mental health care?
If you are in crisis, or in need of help you may find the following links useful: