WARNING – discussion of suicide, suicidal thoughts, emergency services
Am I expecting too much? I don’t think I am. Yet again I and my friend are being bounced around from service to service when he/we are most in need and so many opportunities for giving help missed. But I’ve certainly been made to feel I am asking too much and am a nasty person and more importantly, yet again my friend is left in avoidable danger.
In my local area, there is a specialist phone line for people in a mental health crisis, accessible via 111. This is a pilot, I believe, which may be rolled out in the rest of the country. According to information published about this crisis line, it is for patients, family, carers, friends and professionals, you can get an assessment of your needs, help, advice and visits, it is available 24/7, every day of the year. It is supposed to help you get more specialist help more quickly than if you have to go to A&E.
I phoned this line today because my friend is suicidal and today is a very “risky” day for him. He has specific plans and whilst there does seem to be a part of him that wants to keep going and not end it today, and I think it’s possible he will get through, I’m very worried about him. He was promised to get help from the crisis home treatment team, but he had one phonecall in which they told him to phone services if he felt worse. They have not assessed him or visited. The community service he was seeing haven’t put anything in place.
I wanted to get advice what to do and how to help my friend. I wanted to raise the alarm that he hadn’t had the agreed support and I was apparently the only person who is going to be with him today. I needed to ask some advice for me on how to cope because I’m getting very near another complete breakdown myself. I don’t know how to avoid me losing it and flipping out again when I want to be helping him.
So I phoned this line. First I was told nobody was available but brief details were taken and I was told I’d be phoned back in a few minutes. 1 hour 20 minutes later, having heard nothing, I phoned again. There was no record of my previous call. “You didn’t speak to me before, how would I know the details?” asked the operator. I went through everything again (painstakingly spelling every name and number about 6 times…) I was told that I had not been told I would be called back today. Er, yes I was, I was told I would be called back in a few minutes. “Oh no, we have 24 hours to respond.”
But we’re talking about someone potentially about to end their life here. Don’t you think that might necessitate an urgent, even immediate, response?! Isn’t this a crisis line?!
They made no assessment of the situation, would not listen when I tried to tell them the home treatment team input had not been delivered as agreed, gave no advice except for if he attempts to end his life, call an ambulance. What about any support that might stop him getting to that point? What about any professionals putting help in place? At the very least, any advice to me? At the moment I seem to be the only person doing anything today to keep him safe. I have no training, I do not know how to help him, I am ill myself and close to breaking point. I am terrified what is going to happen and whether he’ll still be here in the morning.
I tried to impress the urgency of the situation and that a call at some point within the next 24 hours was not soon enough seeing as he planned to end his life today. The so called crisis line told me that I simply had to calm down, that I had to realise they have plenty of other referrals to deal with, that they are very busy and it is not very nice for me to suggest they aren’t doing anything (not sure how I did that?), and when I insisted on speaking to a manager she continously talked over me and threatened to end the call. I was told that they had told me about plenty of other ways to get support. They had not suggested one single thing.
I would expect more from a crisis line. I would expect immediate response when someone is suicidal. How can it possibly be okay for them to say, sorry we’re too busy? I would expect the promises in their literature about getting assessed, supported and visited by mental health professionals to be fulfilled. There is no mention in the literature that they may do nothing for 24 hours. I would expect professionals to be ensuring my friend’s safety today, not me. I want to be there for him, I want to listen, be a friend, offer comfort and encouragement. I am happy to stay with him when that helps, as I will today. But I should not be the only one doing something to stop him ending his life. Is it really too much to ask? I don’t think so. He has asked for help and so often been turned away. This has been a pattern for him just as it was for me in my care. If harm comes to him today in my opinion it will have been completely preventable. That is not to blame services for the state he is in, but they have failed to provide support they agreed to, could have and should have.
I don’t know why I keep on having some hope in services that they’ll do what they promise. I’ve had enough demonstrations to the contrary. I’ve given up on help for me but I don’t give up so easily for a friend. I suppose it’s natural to have some trust in those we believe are there to help and protect us and that instinct doesn’t disappear quickly even when it’s proven wrong. If I could expect the total absence of support it wouldn’t be so distressing. I’m not looking for sympathy though it probably comes over that way. Just very angry, bitter, lost and scared.