Online Counselling – My story

Nearly two months ago I was pretty desperate and had been waiting 3 weeks for an appointment with the community mental health team (CMHT) after my GP had urgently referred me but I had heard nothing. I was very unwell and felt that my thoughts and feelings were building up like a pressure cooker waiting to explode. I really didn’t know where or who to turn to.  I am lucky as I have very supportive family and friends but it isn’t always easy to tell them my darkest thoughts and when I am in the depths of depression feeling a burden to them is always uppermost in my mind.

I was getting to the point where I knew I needed to get some professional help myself as not only did I need an outlet for my thoughts whilst in this crisis I also wanted to build on my ‘Wellness Toolbook’ for the future. I am lucky that through Twitter and my blog I have met some amazing people who not only offer empathy and support but also have a vast amount of knowledge at their disposal. One such person asked if I had heard of Online Counselling and recommended an organisation to me.  I was immediately interested and went about finding out more information.

The first thing that sprung to mind was the accreditation it had and whether the site was reputable and so I was pleased to see that it carried the logo for the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy. I spoke with my family and friends who were sceptical at first but after I spoke to my GP who was very positive I decided to give it a go.  I was impressed by the website, security features and also the options available for counselling which include Skype and Instant Messaging. 

I went about carefully choosing a counsellor and then had an introductory session which was very useful.  I opted for Instant Messaging mainly because the anonymity that it provided at a time when I was hugely anxious was reassuring. I was also very frightened of seeing someone face to face as was feeling completely let down by mental health services and worried that the anxiety caused by meeting a new professional for the first time might be too much for me so this sounded a good option. 

I didn’t want this to replace the CMHT appointment that I think I need and am entitled to ( I am still waiting nearly 3 months on) but I also couldn’t sit back and do nothing when I am so determined to help myself where I can. I wonder whether for some people ( and I realise this wouldn’t be a viable option for everyone) this could be offered on the NHS? I don’t for one moment suggest that it should replace services already on offer but with waiting lists so long this could be a huge lifeline to some people experiencing mental health problems. 

I would also add that I am paying for this treatment myself and well aware that I am in a fortunate position to be able to do so.  Many others I’m sure, would like to pay for treatment themselves due to the lack of NHS services and the long waiting lists but obviously could not afford to. 

This is my first blog on the subject and I hope to be able to help raise the profile of online counselling and the huge benefits for people like myself. 

2 weeks – can’t even think that far ahead

So today after a hugely difficult week culminating in a ridiculously tough 24 hours I finally heard from the community mental health team. I only heard from them today due to the fact that my amazing GP surgery chased them directly again, a month after the referral which was marked as urgent.

The CMHT called me and let me know that they could give me an appointment but the next available appointment is not until Friday 27th March – 2 weeks from now.  Once again they didn’t ask me how I was and didn’t even discuss any crisis services even though I know that my GP had contacted them because I was in crisis. 

I feel ungrateful but I can’t even be relieved I have an appointment, I can’t even be thankful that they called because 2 weeks in my current state of mind is an eternity and they have no idea how absolutely awful it has been and continues to be. If my GP hadn’t called them today I doubt I would of been given the appointment on the 27th March and I can’t help think what might have happened if I had been seen 2 weeks after the referral. 

For now I am doing an hour at a time. This morning I struggled to get out of bed, I grabbed a pair of jeans as work attire and clothing decisions were completely out the question. I only made it to work for 2 hours. The anxiety made me physically sick, my eyes were playing tricks with me and the depression physically hurt me, every bone in my body ached and I just wanted to stay in bed. The guilt and sense of failure at having to leave work after 2 hours was huge but I had battled for over a month with not one day off sick and I just couldn’t do it today.  I am hoping that a weekend of rest might help a bit. 

So an appointment and so called help is far too late and so far in the future that it isn’t worth thinking about.  My focus at the moment is the next hour and hoping for some rest.  I am lucky as have enormous support from family and friends – what about those people who have no one and where the system is failing them too? 

Another assessment is not what I need …

Nearly a month ago my GP re-referred me to the Liason Intake Team part of the Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) in my local trust. Even though I am bipolar and have been receiving mental health treatment for 17 years I was discharged a couple of years or so ago and therefore my GP coordinates my care. As I have mentioned before she is excellent but felt last month that I needed further support.  

I was promised previously that if I needed CMHT intervention that it would be easy to access, that I wouldn’t need to wait for ages or explain to loads of people a summary of the past 17 years. Each time I need a referral back to CMHT I come up against similar challenges so this referral is sadly not a great surprise.  

A month on in this referral I am no nearer any support and in fact a conversation I had with the CMHT yesterday just left me exasperated and added to the mental distress that I am currently experiencing.  

What is incredible is that when I called yesterday to chase the referral I was given no update, no apology or understanding regarding the wait and worst of all no one asked if I was ok or how I was getting along.  They couldn’t get me off the phone quick enough – this is far from quick easy access to the CMHT.    

In addition to that, I know I will have to go through an assessment before any further support is offered and the likelihood is that there could be another huge gap between assessment and any support being implemented.  Even worse is that after assessment and all of this uncertainty I could be referred straight back to the GP without any on-going support.

I am no better than a month ago and the poor mental health care does have a huge negative impact and certainly increases my distress.  As I get slowly worse I find it harder to speak to people I don’t know and so the well organised approach from my doctor of referring when I reached the point I did will slowly become useless.  It also means that I am more likely going to end up accessing crisis care services in unequipped Accident and Emergency departments possibly in acute mental distress. 

I have done what I can to help myself, especially over the last few weeks including paying for some online counselling to try and get some consistant care.  I hope that when well this will become another useful tool in my Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) toolkit but at the moment I am just grateful for the support even though I am paying for something the NHS should be providing.

If any healthcare providers read this can I ask you to ask the question “does someone with a history similar to mine really need another assessment and surely some support could and should be implemented quickly?”

The inadequacy of A&E in a mental health crisis …..

I have blogged a few times on my personal experiences when attending accident and emergency departments in a mental health crisis. Every time I have attended, the experience has been hugely unhelpful and in some cases worsened (if that was even possible) my mental health distress.

This week I have seen again many cases of people on Twitter who have been turned away at accident and emergency, spoken to people who have no knowledge of mental health or even sent away with tablets whilst being suicidal.

As I understand it not all accident and emergency departments have liaison mental health teams attached to them and there is also the added problems of different NHS Trusts operating different services in the same area. In my trust for example the accident and emergency is run by one trust and the mental health services run by another. This setup only seems to add to the poor experience and creates a culture of relinquishing responsibility by both parties involved.

I don’t really have any answers but a few things I try and do when I am out in the impossible position of having to go to accident and emergency are:

1.) Try if possible to go with someone – I do though understand that this is often not possible and so apologies that this is just another unhelpful suggestion.
2.) We have triage system at our accident and emergency – I always try and ask at this point what the mental health liaison care is and also whether there is a dedicated area to wait. It is important that the staff realise how distressing it is to wait in this environment when mental health distress is so high.
3.) I ask for a waiting time – they will know one if you went in with a broken arm so this should be no different.
4.) if possible I always take with me a copy of my crisis plan which is useful when by the time I get to see someone I am past being able to coherently manage to communicate much.
5.) During this last episode I have made the decision that I am not going to go to accident and emergency unless it is absolutely necessary so therefore my GP has referred me back to CMHT services. It is worth getting to grips with the system within your trust so that maybe some other care options can be investigated.

Sounds simple!!!!! BUT …….

The problem with all I have said above is that by the time the need for accident and emergency arises the possibility of being able to calmly put in place any or some of the above is pretty small. This therefore illustrates my point that the system as it stands isn’t right. It is putting more lives at risk, hugely endangering patient safety and going nowhere to improve parity of esteem which is supposed to be a priority.

The staff in accident and emergency often do try and do their best but don’t have the knowledge, resource or time to be able to help. With Mental Health beds being cut so drastically this situation can only get worse. Even after 4 hours or so in accident and emergency this hasn’t always led to me getting to a place of safety. In some cases even the crisis or Home treatment team I have referred to have been full and therefore I am left in a worse place than before.

I am unsure of where to go from here in drawing attention to this situation but for my sake and thousands of others something needs to be done.

A very interesting visit in my role as an NHS Trust Governor

As you maybe aware I am a governor for the local NHS Trust which provides the mental health services over 3 local boroughs. It is the NHS Trust for mental health services that I have received although at present I am not under them. I asked to visit all 3 of the trusts inpatient acute mental health units both for working age adults and for older people. This was actually quite a challenge considering that I have myself received treatment at one if them many times before.
I am pleased to say that I was on the whole very impressed and actually think that there have been great improvements since I was last an inpatient especially around care and compassion, ward rounds, communication and activities on the ward. There are obviously many challenges regarding bed management, shortage of beds, staffing, consistency of staff, bank staff, agency staff etc …but I was struck by the dedication of the staff that I met.
It seems to me that once someone gets into hospital things are in general improving but the biggest challenges and areas of concern locally to me lie within crisis care, accessing services for the first time or after a break, liaison in accident and emergency departments and gp’s, support on discharge etc… Whilst it is positive that patients spend less time in hospital I am concerned that they are discharged too quickly because of a lack of beds and that community services are not meeting their needs effectively.
I am therefore committed to keep crisis care at the top of my agenda as a governor and especially the liaison service in accident and emergency as I have experienced such poor examples of care here within the last year and it desperately needs a rethink.
I feel privileged to be a governor and to be able to visit the wards and talk with staff and patients about this very challenging and important area of care.