I’ve been thinking about this for years now, there should be a mental health option when phoning 999. There are many situations when a person who has mental illness needs urgent care, for example when someone is trying to take their life or when someone is very unwell with psychotic thoughts and an individual’s family don’t know what to do, but who do you phone? Is an ambulance the right service? Or the police? Do you want to phone the police on your daughter? All these thoughts that go through the minds of those who care for people who have a mental illness. In my opinion there isn’t a correct option for mental health when dialling 999, paramedics may be good at handling mental health problems but they are not trained specifically in mental health and again the police can often be caring and compassionate when helping someone with a mental illness but they are not trained. If a firefighter turned up to a cardiac arrest it wouldn’t be particularly helpful, they could probably help calm the situation but they probably couldn’t use a defibrillator.
There are crisis teams and home treatment teams dotted around in community mental health teams up and down the country but these are not the same as an emergency number. Often patients must be referred to these services and be on their books in order to use them which isn’t helpful. An initial crisis could occur as a result of having no mental health support, people have to already seek help for their crisis in order to be on the crisis team’s caseload so these services are not accessible to all. Another issue with these crisis teams are that they do not run 24/7. Some may run from 9am-9pm and others may only run 5pm-9pm. Not all crisis services run a 24 hour service and whilst you are often given an instant conversation, contact in person does not happen on an emergency basis. If you are in need of seeing someone urgently then crisis team will often turn to emergency services.
I think that when dialling 999 there should be a mental health option in which a mental health professional is urgently dispatched to the person in crisis. In a mental health crisis it is vital that the right support is received. The help should not be traumatic, we should not be handcuffing patients or putting them in cells but neither should we be leaving vulnerable people alone because we don’t know what to do or don’t have the resources to help. This is why it is vital that trained professionals are available in these urgent and often desperate moments. By having a mental health option when dialling 999 it will take the pressure and strain off of untrained professionals and other services and it will mean that those who are unwell get the correct treatment at the most vital time. It would save a lot of lives and a lot of trauma.