Mental health can be very difficult to manage. The Mental Health Foundation state that 1 in 4 of us will have some kind of mental health problem in the course of a year. 1 in 4, within the course of a year! That is a huge amount of people! This can range from social anxiety to depression or suicide attempts, and in the Ambulance Service, we see a slice of it all.
People ring 999 in a crisis point 24 hours a day. I’ve calmed people having panic attacks in a restaurant, and talked people out of slitting their wrists with a knife. I’ve transported countless overdose patients to A&E and attended a young lady who’d fatally hanged herself.
My point is, MILLIONS of people suffer with mental health, but it is underfunded, under investigated, and people genuinely don’t know what to do in a crisis, so they call 999.
But then what happens…..?
If someone is having an asthma attack, we give them Oxygen and drugs to open the airways.
If someone has fallen down the stairs, we splint their injuries, protect their spinal cord and ease their pain with powerful pain killers.
If someone is in labour, we can deliver their baby and stop a post-partem haemorrhage.
If someone’s heart stops, we have the training, equipment and skills to restart it.
What we don’t have the training or equipment for, is a mental health crisis.
Last Saturday night, we get a call from a young lady who has been walking the streets of the city crying into a bottle of Vodka and eventually knocked on a stranger’s door to ask for help. The person who owned the house amazingly let her in, then called 999. We arrived and she came and sat in our ambulance and told us her story, which out of respect I won’t repeat. We listened, she cried. Then came the difficult bit – what do we do now?
She was a long way from home, it was nearly 5am, and she was, in our opinion, at risk of harming herself or worse, yet she wasn’t a candidate to be Sectioned under the mental health act.
So we did the only thing we could do, we took her to A&E. Trying to contact a mental health provider is hard enough ‘in hours’, let along at 5am on a Sunday morning, so the only option available to us as the ambulance service was A&E. A busy A&E department that was understaffed with no psychiatrists out of hours.
Every time I attend a patient in that position, I wish there was more we could do, but there isn’t. It’s very frustrating. I’d love there to be a satisfying close to this post, but there isn’t.